Plastics: What’s so bad about them and what can we do?

Plastics have got to be one the worst substances for the environment, mostly because they take FOREVER to biodegrade (I’m talking thousands of years!) and have become so ubiquitous in our society.  Take a look around your local grocery store, and you’ll notice plastic everywhere; from packaging of those organic cranberries you can’t live without (is that just me?) to soda bottles to the bags you use to transport everything home.    And that’s just one store!  Plastic is EVERYWHERE.

Single-use plastics are the WORST.  A typical person uses between 350-700 plastic bags in one year.  Last year, the average American used 167 disposable water bottles, but only recycled 38.

Let’s talk about recycling. Unlike glass and metal, plastics can only be recycled so many times.  You may have noticed numbers on the bottom of your plastics; these indicate the type of plastic used.  Most municipalities only have the resources to recycle #1s and #2s, so be sure to check with your local recycling centers.  Each time plastic is recycled, it is “downgraded” and eventually ends up in the landfill (or worse, the ocean).

Speaking of the ocean, have you heard about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? Did you know that there’s a garbage patch in each of our oceans? Ocean currents carry debris to gyres where they stay presumably forever.  Even when the plastic breaks down, it just becomes smaller bits of plastic, which is actually more harmful since many marine animals end up digesting it.  Additionally, many of these plastics attract toxins other toxins which stay in the animals’ bodies.  Because of, you know, the food chain, humans can eventually end up with these toxins in their own systems.

So, what can we do?  The most effective and simplest solution is to quit using single-use plastics.  It’s so easy and cost-effective (and trendy) to buy a reusable bottle (preferably glass or metal) and refill it.  Not only is this keeping plastic from the landfill, but it’s also saving oil, carbon dioxide, and water (it takes 3 liters of water to produce 1 liter of bottled water) among other things.

Reusable bags are also just as easy to find and use.  I keep mine in my car, so I always have one when I need it.  Many stores are now selling these bags for like, a dollar, but you can also make your own using an old T-shirt.  Beyond being better for the environment, these things hold a TON of stuff.  What usually takes 5-6 plastic grocery bags to carry only takes one of my reusable bags.  (Also worth noting when it comes to plastic bags at grocery stores: Do you really need a produce bag for those two lemons you just bought?  The answer is probably no.)

My last simple solution to avoid plastics is to look at the packaging of the items you’re purchasing.  When possible, opt for items with less packaging, or in glass or paper packaging.  If you really want to get crazy, write to your favorite brands asking for more sustainable packing options.  The more people who write the better; supply and demand, folks.

As you can see, it isn’t terribly difficult to make a positive impact on the environment.  Small things can and do make a difference.  Our everyday choices WILL impact the environment; will your choices help or harm our beautiful planet?



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