Earth Day marks its 24th birthday Monday, and its theme focuses on reducing plastic waste. The Pennsylvania Resources Council is joining in this effort with a free webinar on Monday and providing ongoing advice for state residents on how to waste less, properly recycle and reduce plastic use to protect the planet.

“Planet vs. Plastics” is a call to everyone to advocate for widespread awareness on the health risk of plastics, rapidly phase out all single-use plastics, urgently push for a strong U.N. treaty on plastic pollution and demand an end to fast fashion, according to EARTHDAY.ORG, the nonprofit organization for the annual observance. It is demanding a 60% reduction in the production of all plastics by 2040.

Sarah Alessio Shea, PRC deputy director, says her organization’s efforts fit into this focus because so much of its work is waste diversion. “A lot of our plastics are single use,” she said. “Most of that is to reduce or choosing other types of material. [For example,] choose glass if you can over a plastic container and reusables for sure.”

PRC’s “Recycling and Waste Reduction” webinar takes place on Monday at 6 p.m. Pre-registration for the live session, which enables participants to ask questions, is required by Sunday. Shea said a recording will be on the PRC website after that.

The webinar will answer common Pennsylvania recycling questions, including what plastic products are accepted for recycling, how curbside collections work, and what to do with hard-to-recycle items such as electronics, tires, appliances and textiles.

The one-hour webinar will also briefly cover general waste reduction, reuse and recycling topics as well as specifics about where to recycle common materials, according to a news release.

Waste hauling and recycling collections may change in Western Pennsylvania communities and beyond as leaders negotiate contracts, but regardless of that, the statistics bear the need to persevere through changes and additions. “An average person creates 4.4 pounds of waste each day, but there are easy ways to reduce this number and to recycle much of what we can’t avoid wasting,” PRC Executive Director Darren Spielman said in the news release.  

While much of this waste is recyclable in some way, typically only about 30% finds its way to the proper receptacle, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, an agency created as a result of that first Earth Day. The EARTHDAY.ORG website also notes it led to the passage of landmark environmental laws in the United States, including the Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts.

So decades-plus later, what can be done to increase that percentage? Shea has a number of suggestions everyone can do to help out, starting in their own homes.

“A lot of plastic use is habit-based and convenience-based,” she said. “We as people can take a little less convenience for a little less plastic.”

Pennsylvania Resources Council Deputy Director Sarah Alessio Shea dumps a bin of bottles at a Moon collection event. (Courtesy of Pennsylvania Resources Council)

Some of the plastic that cannot be recycled has been crafted by companies, manufacturers and the food industry to protect and preserve items. Carryout clam shell containers are a good example of this, as well as the salad kits that often have plastic bags or plastic separators to segregate components within them. Many of those cannot be recycled.

When Pittsburgh started its ban on plastic bags, Shea said the report on how much plastic is in the region was startling. “It is so ubiquitous everywhere, [that] it can seem overwhelming [to control or cut it back],” she said.

The goal then can be to create systems to make it easier for people to avoid plastic in their homes. Some quick and simple ideas: Instead of plastic baggies, get reusable containers or try beeswax wrap, which purchasers can warm with their hands to make a seal to cover or protect food instead. Reusable silicone containers and covers to heat food in microwaves instead of plastic are great because they can be washed and reused again and again.

To go further, and if residents can afford it, try the Pittsburgh’s Refillery, which now has three locations and offers deliveries, for home essentials like detergent and hand soap. Another service Shea has tried is SOL Refill, a company that offers pantry, body and home goods in reusable glass containers through its doorstep delivery service.

Understanding the types of plastics and what to recycle from your home is key. Shea stresses there are many types of plastic bottles and jugs, and most of the items that can be recycled are the No. 1 and No. 2 forms. The reason behind selecting these is driven by economics and operations: Shea said these items have downstream markets for the materials, and some of the recycling collectors have machinery that would have difficulty sorting out other forms.

A true bright spot is glass recycling, which has been added back to recycling items in a number of communities this year. “What we continue to learn,” she said, “is the market for glass is really strong. People want more recycled glass than they have access to now. It’s hard, and that can be limiting [in the overall recycling effort].” 

PRC works closely with CAP Glass, which has facilities in the state, and the company can verify this. “They’re getting calls all the time for recycled glass,” she said. “They don’t have the stock for recycled glass. We just need to get the general public to understand this.”

Rural Western Pennsylvania community residents also can have a difficult time recycling at all because of the lack of available sites. Some do persevere and find a way, but “for the most part, those will be the hard-core recyclers,” Shea said. “But for the majority of people, it has to fit in with what they can manage, and there’s a factor of convenience. If it is not something fairly close for you, it [recycling] can be difficult.”

Outside of those collections, Shea urges everyone to think before buying new items – especially clothing and furniture items – that may be available and cheaper on places like Facebook Marketplace, vintage stores and thrift shops like Goodwill and others.

Education is the key. “Just realize what you are [choosing to do] based on what can you put in your recycling bin,” she said. “With that education you can make more informed decision on purchasing.

And in that purchasing, she’s a realist. It hit home in a grocery store one day when she looked for peanut butter in a glass container and could find none.

 “It comes down to what’s available as well,” Shea said. “Just think: What can I buy in glass?  There may be a limited amount of items that can fit into that. [But]small ways exist in choosing an alternative and helping out.”

The Pennsylvania Resources Council website has a great deal of information that can help with recycling and other ways to help the environment. That includes glass recycling, backyard composting and rain barrels with information as well on workshops and electronics and e-waste recycling events it sponsors.

Helen is a copy editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but she's currently on strike. Contact her at

Helen Fallon

Helen is a copy editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but she's currently on strike. Contact her at