Thursday, November 11, 2010

P is for plastic

Plastic is everywhere.  Can you think of a day when you don't use plastic in some capacity?  Can you think back to a time when you don't remember plastic?

From the moment you are born, plastic is part of your life.  There are clear plastic "bassinets" in the nursery, petrochemicals in your disposable diapers, the plastic wristband placed on you and your parents, the plastic rattles, toys, legos, Barbie dolls, trucks, high chairs, non-breakable plastic bowls, sippy cups, and silverware.

And as you grow older, there are plastic containers to store cheerio snacks in, store leftovers in the fridge, plastic containers that strawberries, yogurt, milk, peanut butter, and ketchup come in.  Frozen peas, frozen chicken nuggets, frozen fish sticks, frozen french fries all come in plastic bags.  Oh, yes, plastic bags are used for groceries, sandwich bags, and handiwrap, lunchmeat bags, and there are bags of apples, lettuce, carrots, bread bags, and of course ziplocks are used for all kinds of things.  Plastic water bottles, juice bottles, soda bottles, energy drink bottles, etc.  Plastic is used for all kinds of medical equipment, tubing, toothbrushes, makeup containers, vitamin bottles, prescription bottles, etc.  The list goes on and on, suitcases, storage bins, trash cans and bags, car parts, game pieces, etc. etc. etc.

So we are surrounded by, and use plastic from the day we are born, until the day we die.  Sadly, every bit of plastic that has ever been created still exists.  It may get crushed into smaller pieces, and eventually break down to smaller polymers, but with the exception of  a small amount that is incinerated (which results in the release of toxic chemicals into the air), it still exits in our landfills and the oceans.  The massive Eastern Garbage Patch, which is caught up in the currents of the North Pacific Gyre is estimated to be the size of the United States, and extends to a depth of  about 100 feet.  The plastic and trash is harmful to the marine life which often eats the plastic bags and other trash mistaking it for food.  Sampling has found that the overall concentration of plastic is seven times greater than the concentration of zooplankton, which are the basis for the aquatic food web. That's just not right.

So what can we do?  We can each control how much plastic we consume, and we can control how much plastic we recycle or up-cycle. While I agree that there are many great uses for plastic, there are some uses that can be eliminated or reduced.  For example instead of buying disposable water bottles, use a stainless steel refillable bottle ;  instead of plastic baggies and ziplocks for lunches use reusable cloth pouches or use washable containers for pretzels, sandwich, grapes, etc.; the list goes on and on  If we each do our part, and make smart choices ...we can make a dent in the piles of plastic in landfills, and help clean up the ocean, and make our planet safer for future generations who will be exposed to plastic from the moment they are born to the day they die.

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