Reduce and Reuse Plastic, but Don’t Recycle

by Mike Conner

The following are my opinions, based on a good bit of reading but not rigorous research.

Paper, steel, modern-tin, aluminum, and glass cause minimal harm if they are “lost” into the environment. (Roadside non-plastic trash is more an esthetic issue than an environmental issue.) Many chemicals and metals are also harmful, but these should not be present in household recycling.

Plastic on the other hand causes lots of problems if it is “lost” into the environment.

Tiny, micro, and nano particles of plastic are polluting our food, soil, and water to a remarkable extent. Much of this comes from Styrofoam which quickly breaks down into micro pieces that don’t further decompose. A lot comes come coatings that break down into “forever” chemicals. Pretty much all plastic breaks down in the ocean into smaller and smaller pieces, but these pieces remain plastic; they don’t decompose.

Plastic film, complex shapes (like the harness for a six-pack of cans, or a net, or a tangle of string or rope), and small, swallowable parts are causing lots of harm to wildlife, especially in the oceans.

Plastic recycling barely works. Most estimates guess that only about 10% of recycled plastic is actually recycled and the rest is discarded. Actually, the percentage is much lower for everything but standard plastic drink bottles. Plastic bottles are more readily recycled because they are easy to identify and because they are all made from the same somewhat-recyclable plastic. Note that they are, sadly, not very reusable, as cleaning them causes them to start leaching chemicals into their contents.

In North America (including the USA) there are essentially no open public trash dumps. Here we have landfills, which are regulated, and modern ones are quite well designed and managed. The rest of the world, and especially the countries to which recycling materials are shipped, still heavily rely on open trash dumps, many located near rivers. These dumps, plus fishing fleets, account for most of the plastic that pollutes many rivers and all oceans.

In the US it seems that the processing stream for recycled plastic is poorly documented, but it is estimated that about 40% of US recycled plastic is still shipped overseas. So, when you recycle plastic, you have two possibilities:

1) It gets sent to a US-based recycler, where a small percentage is recycled, and most is disposed of in a well-managed landfill. In this case, you have increased the energy cost of disposing of your plastic with the benefit that some may have been saved from going into a well-managed landfill.

2) It gets shipped overseas, where the vast majority of it will end up in an open dump, and a good fraction will end up polluting the environment.

So, my conclusion is that we should recycle everything we can (especially things like electronics that contain heavy metals and bad chemicals) except plastic. I think the case for recycling plastic drink bottles is borderline, but for everything else it is better to put plastic in the trash.  And, of course, we should avoid single-use plastic when reasonable to do so. (The case for some plastic packaging (like shopping bags and containers) is complex, as sometimes the environmental cost of non-plastic packaging is considerably higher.)

And always remember that recycling is the last term in — reduce, reuse, and recycle.

An article with some interesting background information about landfills and municipal recycling is: This California city asked where its recycling went. The answer wasn’t pretty.  

The Bee Story

By Dorothy Mayer

So, I saw the following story online today (see screenshots from Facebook below). Some time ago, I’d likely have blown it off as a pretty farfetched tale. But I couldn’t help but think about an incident I experienced at my house a couple of years ago.

This story brought to mind about me seeing a wasp nest on our RV bumper about sixty feet from our house. I was worried about somebody getting stung, so I told Hubs that we should probably do something about them. So, he takes his handy pliers and pulls it off the bumper, as nothing was on it at the time. Then, he laid it on a little table by our porch swing that was 60 feet away from and out of sight of the RV bumper it came off. After that, we pretty much forgot about it.

Later that evening I happened to look over there and saw about three or four wasps back on it lying on that little table far away from that bumper we pulled it from. I was amazed that they’d looked for it and found it in a totally different place than it was supposed to be.

So, do I think this bee story is farfetched? I think not.

I think insects have way more sense than we realize. After all, we don’t know what we don’t know.


To learn more about insects and all the other nature in Milam County, consider signing up for our next class! Contact and we’ll get you in touch with our new class team.

The Rhythms of Nature

by Sue Ann Kendall

I have a project on iNaturalist where I record the flora and fauna on the ranch where I live. I started it right after I became a Master Naturalist in 2018 and am still contributing to it. My goal is to eventually analyze the data to see if flowers or birds are appearing around the same time or if there’s difference due to weather or climate, or what.

I especially love the tiny flowers, like this birds-eye speedwell.

I accumulated a lot of Master Naturalist hours while working on this project, since I go out on almost every nice day to see what’s new on the property. But, last year the program changed its policy, and now we don’t get credit for hours spent observing nature on our own property. I can see not wanting observations of the same twenty plants in a suburban yard, but we have 500 acres. I stopped for a while, but then I realized the project is still important to me, so I am still taking pictures and uploading, especially in the spring.

Last week I shared some of the earlier flowers in our fields and woods. This week some new ones have showed up, which always thrills me. I’ll share some photos of the new arrivals below.

We are also losing some birds and gaining others. The hawks are still here, red-tails and red-shouldered, along with the tiny merlins and peregrin falcons. And our resident harrier keeps hovering over the fields, hopefully eating a LOT of mice.

The amazing pair of great blue herons seems busy bonding, and the belted kingfisher who showed up over the winter is still flying around and making its unmistakable chirps. In addition to the crows and starlings, we have some visiting blackbirds that make a beautiful sound. I’m not sure what type they are but enjoy listening to them. And cardinals. Wow, do we have a LOT of cardinals, too. I never knew they flocked until I moved here.

Just one male cardinal
Action shot showing the beautiful tail of this barn swallow.

Yesterday, I looked into a willow tree behind my house with my binoculars and saw a loggerhead shrike, a dove, English sparrows, a pair of cardinals, and a festive group of tiny chickadees bopping around. That’s my kind of decorated tree. Oh, and some red-eared slider turtles were holding down the trunks (this was in a tank).

I was happy to see barn swallows already in their nests just a couple of days after they arrived. The tiny insects are here, so they are looking pretty happy.

Speaking of tiny insects, I am always seeing tiny flies and bees on the flowers. They are pretty hard to identify. For example, the fly or bee in this picture is much smaller than you’d think. That is a dwarf dandelion it’s on, not a regular one.

So, yes, it’s a fun time over where I live, and I’m glad I’m able to document the variety of life here in the northern part of Milam County. I look forward to seeing what others are observing. I’ve noticed lots of plum and redbud trees elsewhere, but I just have the buds on cedar elms and coral berry.

Besides all this, I’ve seen a lot of butterflies, such as sulphurs and red admirals, but no one will hold still for me. I even saw something big and black from a long way off. I look forward to more!

Thanks for visiting my part of the world. No matter what, the rhythms of nature keep on going, and that’s a comfort.

Dead Trees Are Very Valuable for Our Wildlife

by Donna Lewis

Trees that have died  and are still standing (snags), and trees that have fallen provide many homes and food for wildlife. Here are some examples.

  • Excavated cavities provide homes for woodpeckers.
  • When they leave a cavity, secondary nesters move in. These include chickadees, titmice, wrens, and bluebirds. 
  • The hollow part of limbs also house owls, raccoons, squirrels, and some bats.
  • Many invertebrates, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals live in or on fallen trees. 
  • Fireflies use decaying logs to complete their life cycle. 
  • The hollow trunks provide homes for skunks, foxes, mice, and weasels, to name a few.

That’s a ton of uses as a tree finishes its life. It helps coming and going….as a fallen tree decomposes it provides nutrients back to the forest floor.

So, you might think twice before cutting a grand old tree that has died down. Of course there are times when you have to remove one, like being too close to a structure or fence. But if it’s a safe distance, then save it for our wildlife.

Everything has a purpose. Hug a tree today.

Earth Day 2021

by Donna Lewis

The beginning of this movement…

On April 22, 1970, Senator Gaylord Nelson decided to do something about global pollution of our air, water, and land.

He knew that college students were the best ones to embrace this call to action.

Since then over 20 million Americans have demonstrated and worked towards saving this planet.

The work goes on.

As Master Naturalists we also work towards protecting our natural resources.

So put our planet in your thoughts,

Put it in your hearts,

Then put all that into action.

We have to succeed for every living thing.

By the way,  I was in college  in 1970, and proudly attended one of the first Earth Day Events, along with 3,000 other students.