What’s the Deal with Plastic?

If you have been trying to reduce your waste and have been doing research on how to accomplish that, I’m sure you’ve seen a trend that it’s best to reduce plastic or even better to avoid plastic. That always seems to be the major underlying goal. Avoid plastic, rid your life of it, and rid the earth of the unnecessary types. But why? Why is plastic bad? And is it all bad?

 

Yes, there are a lot of great uses for plastic. It’s revolutionized travel and the medical industry with the advancement in prosthetics and engineered tissues. It’s such wonderful tool for innovation and exploration, but it’s gotten to a point where it’s cheapness has been taken advantage of. We irresponsibly use it and it’s causing catastrophic issues. And here’s why:

 

Plastic is not biodegradable.

Plastic is a synthetic material, made from oil or natural gas, that was produced in a lab. Nature doesn’t know what to do with it. Over time, the plastic will eventually photo-degrade causing it to break down into tiny pieces called microplastics – pieces that are less than five millimeters in length. Plastic is the most common debris found in our oceans and by 2050, will be more abundant than fish.  What’s even more disturbing, is since microplastics are so prevalent, fish and other marine life consume it, mistaking it for food. If you eat fish regularly, you might be consuming it as well as 1 in 4 fish contain plastic.

 

Most plastic isn’t getting recycled.

Most plastic sent to a recycling facility is landfilled. You know those little numbers on the bottom of your plastic containers? 1s and 2s are usually the ones that get recycled, 3-7 will definitely end up in a landfill. The U.S. exports about one-third of its recycling, and nearly half goes to China. That causes an even bigger carbon footprint because of the transportation and processing pollution that is made as a result. 16 freighter ships will produce as much sulfur as the entire worlds’ fleet of cars in a year! This makes recycling plastic even less environmental.

Yes, those items will be given a new life once, but after that, their quality degrades destining them to, you guessed it, the landfill. And with the recent foreign waste bans in China, even more plastic will be landfilled. The problem is we make too much, the recycled plastic market is not big enough, and plastic has no value. It’s literal garbage.

 

Plastic creation is extremely wasteful.

Producing a 16 oz. PET bottle generates more than 100 times the toxic emissions to air and water than making the same size bottle out of glass. That’s not surprising considering plastic is made from oil or natural gas. That same 16 oz. plastic bottle is 3/4 oil. And on top of that, if we want to move to other resource waste, the amount of water to make a plastic bottle could be up to six or seven times what’s inside the bottle, according to the Water Footprint Network. Insane. I’m not ignoring the fact that it also takes a substantial amount of resources to produce metal and glass packaging – it’s important to look at recyclability after production as a major sustainable factor.

 

 Plastic is damaging to our health.

Some plastics contain a substance called BPA or bisphenol-A and di-(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate (DEHP). These substances are endocrine disruptors that mimic female estrogen which in itself has been linked to cancerous tumors, birth defects, and developmental issues. Alarmingly, 95% of the adult population in the United States would test positive for BPA in the body. BPA exposure is so easy, that contact can occur by just touching a store receipt. Plastics have the potential of manipulating our own chemical makeup. With the constant rise in these issues and illnesses, it’s a question whether or not the overuse of plastic is somehow involved.

 

The longevity of plastic is shorter than its counterparts.

Plastic material was designed to last forever, yet the plastic items in our households seem to break, wear out, even melt sooner than wood or metal items. They just end up breaking into tinier pieces.  How many plastic family heirlooms do you have? Probably not many. Plastic’s usefulness is short lived.

 

Please, don’t think that I view all plastics equally as bad. I don’t. They have been essential in our overall progression as a society. Plastic has made many things possible that never were before. I just feel that we’ve taken advantage of its cheapness. We’ve let our need to consume and our need for convenience turn plastics into an environmental and social burden. I’m also not telling you to throw away all of your plastic. Use it, wear it out, get as much out of it as you can. Then look for alternatives.

We need to start being more mindful of our waste.

For more information on how to start eliminating plastic, check out my Beginner’s Guide to waste reduction.

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