Photo: Chris Jordan Flickr
Hey, ya’ll. As you can see, I am on a plastic-free kick. What are some reasons you think we should all eliminate as much plastic as possible? What are some ways you are eliminating plastic from your life? Feel free to share the inspiration in the comment section below. How can we encourage companies to offer plastic-free alternatives? How can we inspire government officials to pass laws that phase petroleum plastic out of existence and implement new alternatives?
Notice that I used the the word inspire instead of the words “demand” and “pressure” (which can sometimes include the tactic of shaming and guilting a politician or corporate mogul into better behavior.) While demanding is fine and dandy and does produce some positive results, hence the success of non-profits seeking to make the world a better place, I feel inspiring others is even more effective. It’s like delivering the same information in a much better way.
Personally speaking, when someone attempts to shame, pressure or demand me into a new way of being, well, er, it doesn’t work so well. I just feel resistant and defensive and not open to truly hearing the other person’s point of view.
So, let me take you on a little journey on how the raw materials for plastic are extracted to plastic’s final destinations, so you can see the true impact of plastic. Fasten your seat belts!
Drilling For Oil And Hydraulic Fracturing (fracking)
As our oil reserves deplete, off-shore drilling is becoming the new thing. Of course, oil spills can devastate marine life populations. Unfortunately, oil spills are not an uncommon of a thing. For example, serious spills of oil and gas from North Sea platforms are occurring at the rate of one per week. For more information click here and here.
Even if oil drilling companies are extra careful to avoid more oil spills, off-shore oil drilling poses other threats to the environment. A steady stream of pollution from offshore rigs causes a wide range of health and reproductive problems for fish and other marine life. Over the lifetime of a single oil rig, 90,000 metric tons of drilling fluid and toxic metal cuttings are dumped into the ocean. A single rig can also, over its lifetime, pollute the air as much as 7,000 cars driving 50 miles a day. Not to mention, off-shore drilling activities destroy kelp beds, reefs and coastal wetlands.
I don’t know about you, but I LOVE the ocean. The rhythmic waves and forces are an inspiration to me, along with the sheer diversity and beauty of the marine life. Swimming in pristine ocean waters is healing and nurturing to body and soul. Also, for those of us that eat fish or sea vegetables, great nutritional value comes from unpolluted sources. We are deeply connected to the ocean and water. Just like like human body, roughly 71% of the Earth’s surface is water (97% of water is the ocean).
In the spirit of keeping this blog on the briefer side, I encourage you to read up on fracking and also watch a documentary called Crude, which will show you the effects of drilling for oil on land through the eyes of rainforest dwellers in Ecuador, who suffered increased rates of cancer, leukemia, birth defects, and many other health ailments.
Ever live close to an oil refinery? Me neither. But there are folks that do live near these refineries and their story is not pretty. As per the movie, Tapped, Corpus Christie, TX is the largest PETE water bottle manufacturer in the U.S. PETE is in the Benzene family which causes cancer. Other health risks of living close a to refinery are increased risk of birth defects. Birth defects in Corpus Christie are 84% higher than the state average! PETE also contaminates ground water because these manufacturing plants have major chemical leaks. Air and soil is also negatively impacted.
To me, clean air, water and healthy soil is a basic human right. Heck, it is a basic right to all life to Thrive.
Risks Of Having Plastic Items
Having plastic in your home comes with some risk to the health of you and your loved ones, especially if the plastic item is what you eat from, drink from, sleep on or wear. Also, when friction or heat is applied to a plastic item, toxins can be released more readily into the air or in your food/beverage.
Two plastics of major concern are PVC (polyvinyl chloride, #3 plastic) and polycarbonate (#7 plastic). Please note, however, not all #7 plastic is polycarbonate. If you see PLA next to the #7, then the plastic is plant-based.
PVC is found in many common household items such as conventional shower curtains, peanut butter jars, cling wrap and air mattresses. PVC contains harmful carcinogens, most notably VCM (vinyl chloride monomer). Other chemicals such as dioxin and phthalates, both carcinogenic, may also be released into an indoor environment. For more detailed information on the risks of PVC, click here and here.
Polycarbonate is used in some hard plastic bottles, metal food can liners, clear plastic “sippy” cups and some clear plastic eating utensils. It has been found to leach BPA (Bisphenol A) which mimics estrogen and has been linked to several cancers and genetic damage in infants.
Are there any safe plastics? Even some supposedly safe plastics can have hormone-disrupting effects.
I can’t help but think of the greatly increased cancer rates that have occurred with modern living and the presence of synthetic chemicals, pollutants and processed foods in our lives. I don’t think it is necessarily one thing that causes an ailment, but most certainly toxins can add cumulative stress to the body over time.
While your life may not be entirely plastic-free and the transition may take some time, I believe reducing toxins and increasing natural materials is life enhancing and, not to mention, beautiful. Who doesn’t love the look and feel of wood, glass and natural fibers? Above all, don’t stress as you transition. Find your flow and allow it to happen organically.
Recycling and Disposal Of Plastic
While recycling whatever plastic is accepted by your municipality is the better option, it still has many drawbacks. For one, if your municipality does single stream recycling (meaning that you put all recyclables into one bin and do not have to sort), not everything you put in the bin may necessarily be recycled. To create simplicity and avoid confusion, single stream municipalities may say the accept more than they do.
Sometimes, a wrong material or unclean item can delay the process of recycling or contaminate other items it has spilled on. To find out recycling tips to avoid this issue, click here.
Most importantly, when plastic is recycled it turns into a lesser material each time (a.k.a. downcycling), until it is no longer recyclable and then makes it way to the trash.
Once plastic becomes trash, it is not biodegradable. Bacteria have no interest in digesting it except a certain strain
under very specific conditions manipulated by humans. Plastic, instead, is photodegradable, meaning it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces via sunlight. In a landfill, there is little to no sunlight. Out in the open, such photograded plastic can pose a threat to the wildlife as they can unwittingly eat the smaller pieces.
Not all plastic ends up recycled or in a landfill. With landfill space scarce, some trash is incinerated, releasing high levels of green house gasses and toxins into the air. And then there is the other plastic that makes it into waterways for many reasons. Perhaps, our trash can lid wasn’t secure and some of it blew away in the wind. Perhaps, we when we throw things away in a lidless public trash receptacle and it overflows, the wind carries it away and yet again, plastic and other garbage clogs our waterways. Or perhaps some people just carelessly litter or do open dumping
. Whatever the case, this free floating garbage poses a great threat marine life. Ever heard of The Great Pacific Garbage Patch
Now that I have filled you with some sobering thoughts (and hopefully some uplifting ones as well), don’t despair. There are many plastic-free alternatives that I will be sharing on this blog as I also explore going plastic-free with you. Some will be DIY and others will be products from sustainable, awesome companies. For those items that are near impossible to find plastic-free, I do believe alternatives are on the horizon as the green market and consciousness expands. Stay tuned for the inspiration!