Things made of plastic litter the Earth. Plastic is everywhere — worst of all, it’s entering our food web. Plastic serves worthwhile purposes, but its over-use affects our health and pollutes the planet.
Drones are now being used to track plastic pollution. Watch the video below.
The plastic tide
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 at 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.
You can help make a difference.
Tagging plastic on beaches using drone technology:
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)
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 the 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 my letter as a template.
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.
- Bamboo toothbrushes that are 100% biodegradable including bristles, which are made of Nylon 4.
- Cotton buds with FSC timber stems
- Dishcloths, like like these made from bamboo
- Buy eco-friendly office or student supplies.
4. Choose products made from recycled plastic bottles or other recycled plastic
There are stylish choices.
Examples include recycled plastic outdoor rugs, check them out here.
There are also furniture products, like this comfy outdoor rocking chair, seen here 100% made from recycled plastic.
5. Use a glass or stainless steel water bottle
Instead of plastic containers, opt for better alternatives.
Refill your stainless steel water bottle, rather than buy multiple bottles of water from the supermarket.
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.
Switch to things like bee’s wax wraps, like these, to cover your food.
Or, store products in glass or stainless steel containers that are free of BPA.
Try 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.
Check out Zero Waste Home: The ultimate guide to simplifying your life by reducing waste, see it here, for a swag of ideas to rid plastic from your home or office.
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 reusable produce pags like these.
Also, look for product brands packed in cardboard or glass rather than plastic when buying.
Source plastic-free options from the following place:
- 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 offer great plastic free options for home, school, and office
- Amazon also have a variety of green everyday solutions
Plastic ain’t all bad
Let’s put it into perspective. There are things, however, made of plastic that improve our lives.
Sunglasses that protect our eyes from the sun and help us avoid cataracts in later life are made of plastic.
But…you can shop for alternatives, like these bamboo sunglasses that are polarised and float!
3D printer technology
Making plastic things at the very place of use reduces transportation CO2 and makes this example earth-friendly.
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. Check them out here.
They emit 75 to 80% less energy on average compared to that for incandescent.
Unlike the CFLs, they do not contain mercury or other toxic substances.
Plastic building products
The eco-friendly thing 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.
Drones and cameras are made of plastic
Drones and cameras can be used for environmental purposes, like tracking the plastic pollution of our beaches.
Creative work like this can send a strong environmental message.
The important message is that we need to stop plastic from entering the biological systems of the world.
We need to cut back on single-use plastic big time! Alternatives to plastic packaging would be a big step in that direction.
Some more info sources:
- The Problem with Plastics – Yale
- 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.
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