Tuesday, September 23, 2008


There is no doubt that plastics have changed the world. The uses and structures of plastics are seemingly endless. Yet plastic is a threat to our earth and safety.

BPA, a hormone disruptor, is found in certain types of plastic. It has been considered potentially toxic since the 1930’s, but has been leaching its way out of our containers and toys and into our bodies for decades. It is found in the urine of 95% of Americans, and evidence is suggesting it may be causing heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. Phthalates are added to plastics to increase flexibility, and are suspected to cause neurological and reproductive damage. Some people believe you should try not to touch plastic too often, and never let it touch your food.

Many plastics do not biodegrade, and when they do, it is estimated to take hundreds of years. Other plastics Photodegrade instead, meaning they break down into smaller and smaller pieces when exposed to sunlight. The small pieces then contaminate our soil and water and eventually enter the food supply when they are eaten by organisms. Plastic particles now outnumber plankton in some parts of the ocean, 6 to 1.

But I recycle! Well, it is not enough. Less the 6% of plastics are recycled. Only plastic numbers 1 and 2 can be recycled in our neighborhood. Some places also recycle number 5. Even when recycled, they are really being downcycled to a non-recyclable end product. The majority of plastics end up back in the landfill the same year they are produced. Reuse is not always an option, as some plastics are only considered safe for one time use. Most plastic is also a petroleum product, a non-renewable resource.

I am not ready to give up using shampoo and deodorant, but there are many ways we can easily work to reduce our plastic use. I heard one estimate that suggests 2/3 of plastic waste can easily be avoided, though the remaining 1/3 is very hard to eliminate. You can start by avoiding disposable products, in favor of reusable ones. Chose products with less packaging, buy natural fibers, ask for no straw, lid or excess plastic packaging. Buy high quality wood, metal and glass items instead of cheap plastic alternatives. If you are going to buy plastics, look for used items, or items made from recycled materials.

  • Buy glass or stainless steel food storage containers
  • Get a Klean Kanteen for beverages
  • Use cloth diapers; try Bumkins or a diaper service
  • Consider using washable feminine hygiene products
  • Get cloth bags, including compact bags for your car, purse, backpack and diaper bag and produce bags for produce and bulk foods
  • Use paper-packaging tape
  • Avoid prepared foods, too much plastic packaging
  • Metal camping dishes are great for babies and kids
  • Make your own yogurt (its easy - you can borrow the yogurt maker my neighbor gave me, but it is made of plastic)
  • Don’t use paper towels or paper napkins (they come wrapped in plastic), get extra washcloths and cloth napkins, and throw them in with your regular wash
  • Buy toilet paper in individual rolls, wrapped with paper
  • You can even get glass straws
  • Carry a set of reusable eating utensils, or keep a set in your desk at work
  • Any other ideas?



Lynnis said...

Very interesting post! I always ask the clerk to "hold the bag" when I can carry my items and it is CHOCKING how they don't get it and give me a bag anyway. They are often like, "It's ok, you can have a bag". One of my biggest concerns about plastics is the way they mimic female hormones (progesterone, I think). This has caused infant girls in Puerto Rico (where all food's imported in cans or plastic) to grow breasts and then menstruate at preschool age. Not to mention the effects it must be having on the development of little boys! Plastic is part of our lives, and it's very difficult to forgo it entirely, and if you do good will still have gone through a much of plastic packaging before it even gets to you. Try to avoid heating plastics with food in them. The Thai restaurant in Oxon Hill is fabulous but they will ONLY give you takeout in styrofoam, by the time you get it home the hot food just takes like plastic where it's been touching the container.

Piri Jenkins said...

Only one comment? Is no one else with me on the issue? Or all you all just ashamed by your excessive plastic consumption?

Lynnis said...

I have one more comment. Washable feminine hygiene products are gross. That is apparently the line I won't cross the save the environment and money. Just buy cotton tampons with paper applicators.

Piri Jenkins said...

They are no grosser then cloth diapers.

Bill said...

Every solution to the problem I can think of involves the use of plastic.