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There was a time when people shunned the cheap plastic alternatives.
In our busy and stressful lives, we look to save time (an also our wallets). Corporations look to save money. There is no denying the benefits of having things made of plastic.
But…These benefits come with a price.
Chemical additives in everyday plastic products have health risks. One, in particular, bisphenol-A (BPA), can impair our memory and cognitive abilities and contribute to depression, according to scientists from the Yale University School of Medicine.
Much evidence from decades of research and use of plastics suggests we need to rethink plastic in our surrounds and in our use.
This article focuses on plastic things as is Part 1 of my series, #GetReal for wellness. Part 2 focuses on every day over-the-counter items to get real about, see it here.
Our dilemma with plastic things
On the one hand, plastic offers us things we revere, like ‘green’ solutions and appliances that improve our lives.
On the other, plastics harm our well-being from off-gassing (or outgassing) and leaching of toxic additives from everyday products that we use at work and at home.
How plastic things affect our wellbeing
Note: not all plastics are the same in the additives they contain and how they react with heating etc. in their environment. The below list is a generalized overview. There are at least 13 common types of plastics. See the below table for information on the main seven.
- Plastics contain 1000s of chemical additives. Some are considered harmful to human health.
- Plastic additives can leach into our food or drink during cooking or with storage
- The main chemicals of concern are bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates, which are hormone-mimicking, endocrine disruptors
- Another is a plasticizer called Bis(2-ethylhexyl) adipate (DEHA), which can harm the liver, kidneys, and spleen
- Styrene (in foam cups) is a known carcinogen and can cause dizziness, fatigue, and chromosomal and lymphatic problems
- Health issues linked to BPA, in peer-reviewed scientific papers, include anomalies in the function of the brain, thyroid, and the cardiovascular system, as well as cancer, adult-onset diabetes, obesity, and resistance to chemotherapy. Exposure may be associated with higher levels of anxiety and depression
- The numerous health issues linked to phthalates in peer-reviewed articles also include cancer
- Offgassing is the release of volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
Common things made of plastic/concerns
Some facts about plastics that affect wildlife, oceans, and beaches
- 8 million tonnes of plastics leak into the ocean annually
- This is equivalent to dumping one dump truck per minute
- With no action, this will double by 2030 and quadruple 2050
- Plastics can remain in the ocean for 100s of years in original form
- even longer as small particles
- with amount cumulates over time
- Best estimates are that 150 million tonnes of plastic waste pollute oceans today
- Without action, there will be more plastic than fish by weight in the ocean by 2050
- even alarming by 2025, the ratio of plastic to fish is likely to be 1:3
- 250 million tonnes of plastic forecast in oceans in 2025
- Cost of ocean plastics to the tourism, fishing and shipping industries was USD 1.3 billion in one region alone
Recycling is not enough – because people recklessly discard single-use plastics.
Birds, turtles, and other wildlife are physically injured by plastic bags.
Two birds, in particular, the great shearwaters Puffinis gravis and the northern fulmars Fulmarus glacialis ingest high amounts of plastic from the oceans. Apparently, over 70% of the great shearwaters carry plastic in their stomachs. Imagine that.
How to rethink the explosion of plastic things
The extent of use of plastic in packaging and everyday items today is staggering.
Most of this is lost from the economy – a cost for the corporate world that most probably is passed on to consumers.
You have to ask…
Is the convenience of plastic products worth the ‘junk’ we end up with in the long run?
What you can do!
Plastic residuals will be around forever and the exponential increase of plastics ending up in landfills, oceans and even remote areas of the planet, like the Antarctic, suggest a poor outlook for our future.
One huge impact we can make on reducing plastic pollution is to use our buying power.
This can apply to plastic things we use every day.
Seven ways you can reduce plastic exposure:
1. You can write to companies of products you use, asking them to rethink their use of plastic packaging.
- If you like, you can use [popup title=”my template.” padding=”0″ button=”0″][mc4wp_form id=”7873″][/popup]
2. Buy quality!
- Consider the expected lifespan of the article. How long will it last? Can you repair, reuse, repurpose, or recycle it? One thing to do, is to buy your kids or grandkids wooden or metal toys.
3. Choose bamboo or sustainable timber products for common household or office items
- These can be composted later. Some examples:
4. Choose products made from recycled plastic bottles or other recycled plastic
- There are stylish choices. Examples include recycled plastic outdoor rugs. There are also furniture products, like this comfy outdoor rocking chair 100% made from recycled plastic.#5. Use a glass or stainless steel water bottle
6. Ditch the plastic wrapping of food
- This is a huge step for your health considering the indicated dangers in using plastic film when covering and heating food. You can switch to bee’s wax wraps, like these, to cover your food. Or, store products in glass or stainless steel containers that are free of BPA. These include stainless steel lunch containers like this one. Also, try buying fresh produce from the local markets or where they are sold loose. Take your own non-plastic containers for filling.
- I recommend buying Zero Waste Home: The ultimate guide to simplifying your life by reducing waste for the simple reason it is packed full of ideas and proven alternatives to plastic things in your home or office even. I have this one and it’s earmarked.
7. Avoid plastic when shopping
- Take your own shopping bags. Instead of the plastic bags offered by the stores for fresh produce, a great option is to take your own reusable mesh bags. You can purchase ones like these. Also, look for product brands packed in cardboard or glass rather than plastic when buying.
- Source plastic-free options:
- Life Without Plastic is “the one-stop shop for safe, high quality, ethically-sourced, Earth-friendly alternatives to plastic products for everyday life.”
- The Green Office has plastic-free ideas for study and office
- In Australia, Biome and Shop Naturally offer great plastic free options for home, school, and office
- Amazon have a variety of green everyday solutions
Except, there are things made of plastic with recognized benefits for the wild or our wellness. One example…
Sunglasses that protect our eyes from the sun and help us avoid cataracts in later life are made of plastic. (Shop for alternatives, like these bamboo sunglasses that are polarised and float!)
Below are seven examples of interesting things made of plastic, which have green benefits.
Interesting things made of plastic
3D printer technology
- Making plastic things at the very place of use reduces transportation CO2 and makes this example earth-friendly. w. r. yuma is a start-up using 3D printing to make sunglasses from recycled plastic. The downside is that the process is energy hungry. But, using renewable energy can compensate for this.
- LED stands for light-emitting diode. Energy efficiency with these is greater than fluorescence lighting (CFL). They are cool to touch and cool to look at. You can buy them here. Huge energy savings make these earth-friendly. Like, 75 to 80% less energy with the average watt LED compared to that for incandescent. Like, 75 to 80% less energy with the average watt LED compared to that for incandescent. Also, unlike the CFL, they do not contain mercury or other toxic substances.
The plastic building products
- What’s eco-friendly about these is where they save our natural forests. As well, building blocks are being made from waste plastic, such as RePlast. These require no binding agent and are claimed to have negligible carbon footprint compared to concrete.
The faux fur and leather that saves our wildlife
- Synthetic materials mean cruelty-free products that save our wild. Before acrylic (plastic) fibers were introduced, animals were slaughtered for their skins.
The plastic-drip irrigation that saves on water use
- Polyvinyl fittings and pipe in drip irrigation systems allow considerable water conservation in the growing of our foodstuffs.
Lightweight plastics that enable the fuel efficiency of cars
- Plastics combined with glass, carbon, or other fibers make today’s cars more economical on fuel.
Plastic sheeting containing solar cells
- The printing of solar cells in plastic will allow flexible, lightweight, and extremely thin layers for energy generation using walls, windows, and other non-flat or upright surfaces. This will increase the application of renewables over fossil fuels and lower CO2 emissions.
What to do with plastic lids?
Small plastic lids are not always recycled in general recycling programs. They are too small to be a viable proposition. Though, future technology may improve this situation. So for now, they are a PROBLEM – they go to landfill!! or are discarded and potentially end up as plastic flotsam in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
What to do with this plastic debris?! It lasts forever, ends up littering our oceans and beaches, and its residues enter our food web. I’m finding wonderful ideas.
Seven innovative ideas:
1. Buttons made from flattened plastic bottle lids
- Buttons from flattened plastic bottle lids that will pimp your dress, handbag, or jacket. A Netherlands entrepreneur is powering this idea and making great looking accessories that are hugely popular.
2. New ways to process plastics
- Europe’s New Plastic Economy – The Environment Council of the European Union on 4 March 2016 debated “Europe’s transition towards a circular economy, more sustainable and competitive than the current model.”
- The ideal will be to have bottle top plastic going back into the system as source material or is it possible to make them from bio material.
3. Recycled filament to make objects
- 3-D printing – recycled filament to make objects. The Recyclebot is a waste plastic extruder that yields filament for 3-D printers from plastic waste. It still involves purchasing equipment and learning the technique, but there are plenty of start ups in this area that link to a digital world that is evolving. The start-up blog describes software eating the world.
- The possibilities are mind-blowing with the technology on the horizon. Rather than owning a 3-D printer to print off your part or product you might contract a local business to run one off and if the plastic is recycled locally for this, imagine the reduction in carbon dioxide emissions linked to less shipping of items 1000s of kilometers as occurs now. Now, that is sensible. Hobbyist printing is hot, and 3D printing is changing the world.
- TerraCycle has a program for collecting plastic bottle caps. In this program “The plastics undergo extrusion and pelletization to be molded into new recycled plastic products.” TerraCycle programs differ with country, however. This one is not being run in Australia, for example.
- Nonetheless, always be on the lookout for programs like this in your country.
- More ideas can be found on Pinterest…. check it out.
Get a handle on plastic bottle tops:
- Plastic bottle tops are mostly made out of LPDE (Low-Density Polyethylene) or HPDE (High-Density Polyethylene).
- You can tell these types by the 2 or 4 inside a triangle, which indicates the type of plastic. However, some lids are PP (polypropylene) – marked by a triangle with a 5 inside.
Like I mentioned before, there are beautiful works of art using non-recyclable plastic lids, and the innovative and unique work using plastic as a medium where other art supplies are scarce, and other creative work that sends an environmental message that is inspiring.
Once again I’ll leave it to your imagination, but the important message here is we need to stop more plastic entering the biological systems of the world, and bottle tops are a classic issue in this regard as they are small and not generally accepted in local recycling programs.
This is part 1 of my #GetReal for wellness series. Watch out for articles on getting real for your wellness.
Have you an idea on how to reduce plastic pollution you’d like to share?
Feel free to share below!
Ellen MacArthur Foundation
Life Without Plastic
The Problem with Plastics – Yale
Ecology Center Plastic Task Force Report, Berkeley, CA, 1996.
Centers for Disease Control Report, “National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals,” 2001.
Goettlich, Paul, “What are Endocrine Disruptors?” 2001
MSDS (1 November 2010). “Material Safety Data Sheet Styrene (monomer) MSDS”. MSDS. Retrieved 2011-06-11.
Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Department of Health and Human Services, National Center for Environmental Health. Fourth National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals. 2009.
Yang, C., Yaniger, S., et al. Most Plastic Products Release Estrogenic Chemicals: A Potential Health Problem that Can be Solved. Environmental Health Perspectives. July 2011. 119(7), 989-996.