The Problem...Take a look around you- most ofwhat we eat, drink, or use in anyway comes packaged inpetroleum plastic- a materialdesigned to last forever, yet usedfor products that we then throwaway. This throwaway mentalityis a relatively recentphenomenon.
This throwaway mentality is arelatively recent phenomenon.Just a generation ago, wepackaged our products inreusable or recyclable materials– glass, metals, and paper, anddesigned products that wouldlast. Today, our landfills andbeaches are awash in plasticpackaging, and expendableproducts that have no value atthe end of their short lifecycle.
✦ Popular science suggests that it takes a plastic water bottle 450to 1000 years to completely biodegrade. To make mattersworse, the compounds that common plastics breaks down tocan be described as hazardous at best. The actual amount oftime depends on the conditions the bottles are placed in, but themessage should be crystal clear: it takes a long time. Plasticscannot be incinerated using low heat incinerators (like thoseused at most trash to power plants) because the combustioncreates one of the most deadly gases humanity has discovered,Dioxin. Dioxin is a organic compound class that includes AgentOrange, produced by Monsanto during the Vietnam War. Thegreatest threat of dioxins is not the immediate deaths andecological destruction, but the residual effects and birth defectsthat destroy the lives of generation after generation.
In 2006, the New York StateDepartment of EnvironmentalConservation conducted areport on the growing use ofbottled water in the UnitedStates. The report was full ofstaggering figures andawesome percentages. Like:Did you know that Americansspend nearly $11 billion a yearon bottled water and thatbottled water costs roughly $10a gallon while tap water costsless than one cent per gallon.
✦ While most bottled water in the U.S. does comefrom springs or underground reservoirs, 25% ofbottlers simply sell packaged tap water. In truth, it isa brilliant business model: let the city do all thecostly and energy demanding work to filter, treat,and chlorinate the water supply before placing it incheap plastic bottles and selling it at hundreds oftimes the production cost. If you drink Pepsi’sAquifina or Coke’s Dasani, you are most likelydrinking processed tap water. If the label says“purified” or “drinking water,” that is a sign that thewater is not coming from a glistening mountainstream like the image suggests.
✦ Of the over 31 billion bottlesof water sold a year, onlyabout 10% are recycled. Thatmeans that 27.9 billion plasticbottles end up in landfills andoceans every year. And waterbottles are one of the fewrecyclable kinds of plastic. Ofthe 7 types of plastics, only 2are readily recyclable. Thatmeans only 2 types are worthTRYING to reuse. The rest aredumped, no questions asked.Recycling?
What is being done?The most eco-friendlyproducts are often thosemade from recycledmaterials because thisreprocessing preventslarge quantities ofreusable material frombeing buried away inlandfills.
The people at GreenSmart are using recycled plastic bottles toproduce a fabric-like material that can be used to manufacturebackpacks, laptop sleeves, messenger bags, and other simpleproducts. This recycled plastic fabric is a safe and environmentallyfriendly use for tons upon tons of discarded plastic water bottles,bottles that if placed in a landfill would practically neverdecompose.This fabric is made by collecting bottles, grinding the plastic intoflakes, removing any impurities (i.e. any non-plastic material), andforming the bits of plastic into fiber through a process known aspolymerization. This raw fiber is finally spun, just like wool orcotton, into yarn and woven into the fabrics that composeGreenSmart’s products. According to Greensmart, the fabricproduction process uses less energy than making polyester out ofrefined petroleum, adding even greater credibility to the eco-conscious character of these bags and backpacks.
What is being done?Plastic Bag LawsPlastic Bag LawsViable policy options include:•bans on single-use carryout bags•fees for single-use carryout bags•credits for bags supplied by thecustomer
4 key strategies for a plastic freelife4 key strategies for a plastic freelife✦ #1: Expect failure!!As the team of bloggers over at Growing a Greener World put it, this is one challenge in whichfailure is almost certain—and that’s OK. As we said from the beginning, completely eliminatingall plastic from your life is impossible. Even the stuff you try to avoid will sometimes creep pastyour defenses, so rather than stress about a mistake or moment of weakness, just accept it andkeep trying.#2: Prioritize.Deciding to go (mostly) plastic-free can easily leave you feeling overwhelmed. Each of usexperienced that sensation, and many of you wrote or commented about that too. So it’s a goodidea to start by IDing some of the bigger plastic inputs in your life, and work on those. Onceyou’ve established a plastic-free habit, you can move on to the next one on your list.Here are some tips to get you started...
✦ Focus on food.Following the lead of Beth Terry’s blog MyPlasticFreeLife.com, we each surveyed a week’s worth of trash to see how we generatedmost of our plastic garbage. If you’re anything like us, you’ll find that food packaging is your number one source of plasticwaste. Along with sheer volume, there are other reasons that food-related plastic is a good place to focus your efforts.Chemicals from plastic packaging and containers leach into the stuff we eat and drink, and therefore have the biggest potentialimpact on our immediate health.In addition to avoiding over-packaged foods at the supermarket, swap out plastic food-storage containers and cooking utensils andreplace them with glass, ceramic, wood, or other materials. And never heating up food in any kind of plastic is a pretty easyrule to follow.• Ban those bags.If you forget your reusable bags at the grocery store, carry your items out by hand. After doing that a few times, you’ll probablyNEVER forget your bags again! If you do find yourself with more items than you can carry, why not use a cart to get them tothe car without bags? At the very least, use as few shopping bags as possible (and don’t bag items that already come in bags,like those oranges or potatoes).Bring the plastic bags to back to the supermarket for recycling (along with any other stray plastic bags that find their way into yourhands). Make it easier on yourself to remember your reusable bags for your next trip by stashing them with your shopper’s clubcards, or in your car’s trunk or glove compartment.• Stop using stupid plastic.Some plastic is just pointless. A straw? Would it kill you to let your lip touch the glass? A plastic bag just to hold the greeting cardyou bought? Carry it in your hand! Plastic fork? It’ll probably break! Wash your hands and eat with your fingers. PlasticHalloween decorations? Use real bones! (If you eat meat, that is. Otherwise, probably not!)
✦ #3: Slow down.Plastic exists to support the go-go-go lifestyle that we all think we need to maintain.Committing to cutting back on plastic gives you a reason to insert some helpfulspeed bumps into your day. So enjoy them! Take 10 extra minutes to eat breakfast athome, for example, or use a full 30 minutes to eat lunch at a restaurant, off glassplates using real silverware, rather than grabbing something packaged in plastic toeat at your desk. Along with the benefits of avoiding plastic, you’ll gain anopportunity to catch your breath, enjoy your food, and let go of some stress.#4: Don’t be a jerk about it.None of your plastic-addicted friends wants to hear a lecture about the evils ofplastic (ours sure didn’t). Be relaxed and nonjudgmental when you talk about yourdecision to cut the plastic cord. Focus on why the alternative is better, not on whyplastic and the people who use it are evil. And let your deeds, rather than yourwords, be the strongest argument.Every time you tell a cashier you don’t need a bag, and walk out of the story carryingyour carton of milk in your hand instead, you’re planting an idea in the head ofeveryone around you. And that’s how new norms are created.