Monday, June 25, 2007

52 Weeks Down - Week 9 - Deplasticize Your Life

If you didn't see the article on plastic oceans (the one with the horrible turtle pictures), you should definitely read it here - this is really important: Because we all knew that plastic never breaks down entirely, but I don't think everyone realized that what happens is that plastic fragments and mixes in with your water, your soil, your food, and the food and water of plants and animals, and then it makes its way into our bodies. How is a really troubling and scary story. Definitely read the article.

Now this is stuff never, ever meant to be ingested - full of endocrine disrupters (messes with your hormones), carcinogens (warm plastic mixed with liquid creates dioxin among other things), traces benzene (liver cancer) and all sorts of things that no one ever meant for us to eat, breathe and bathe in.

Now this plastic warms the planet a couple of times - when it is manufactured from oil, when it is recycled (if it is, most isn't - more on this in a minute), and when it goes into a landfill and helps mix with organic garbage to produce methane. And since cancer treatment isn't exactly low input, you could argue that it warms the planet again - when we have our surgeries and other treatments from the illnesses caused by becoming a plastic world.

The plastics industry has spent a long time convincing us that plastics are recyclable - they have those nice arrows, so they must be ok, right? But in fact only a few varieties of plastic are recyclable, plastic recycling is quite energy intensive, and after you recycle that plastic container into a bumper or recycled plastic lumber, that's it - next stop is the landfill or your water table.

So what do we do about this? The first thing is to buy no new plastic, or as little as humanly possible. Don't take that plastic bag at the grocery store - when you do so, you are saying "make another." Don't buy things packaged in plastic if you can avoid it - and tell your store manager "I'd really like to purchase that - but not with all that plastic packaging." Whenever possible, buy things with no or minimal packaging, or that uses recycled glass, metal or paper only. The only way to stop the plastic plague is stop making a market for it.

That's never going to be perfect - there are some necessary things that only come in plastic. In our house it is disposable pull-ups required by law for our disabled son. Computers only come in plastic - and electronic waste is a whole 'nother issue, to be discussed soon. But the less you use, the better. In other houses it will be something else - but minimize plastic usage and keep looking. Here's a fascinating blog by a woman who trying to spend a whole year without plastic

What about the plastic you do have? The first thing you want to do is get it out of contact with hot food, acidic foods or liquids. Food grade plastic buckets are probably fine for dry goods you keep cool. But I strongly recommend avoiding plastic for things like olive oil, honey, molasses, etc... I don't like plastic bristle toothbrushes, plastic baby bottles or anything else that goes into your mouth, although we have some too. Personally, I also dislike plastic bath toys, although I haven't fully eliminated them. But pthlates (soft plastics) and hot water don't mix, especially in the bodies of little people. I often wonder whether when we finally trace the origins of autism, we'll find it is a plastic problem - but that's just my personal speculation.

The easiest way to avoid plastic at the grocery store is to bring cloth bags, buy in bulk (particularly in places that will allow you to bring your own glass containers for things like honey, olive oil, vinegar and molasses), and choose items packaged as minimally as possible. Remember, metal and glass are more energy intensive in manufacture than plastics, although their lifetime impact is less because they can be recycled multiple times - so minimizing all packaging is a good idea. Plastics are also in a number of makeup and body care products - I don't know about you, but I don't think "pretty" is worth the PBDEs and POPs and their consequences. Buy plastic free.

While having plastic mixed with your food isn't such a good idea, it is always a good idea to reuse the plastic you do have - don't just throw it out. When you do that, you begin the process of putting it into the world's food chain. Plastic materials can and should be used for any non-food or bath purpose you can think of, because the longer they are in use in your house, the longer their total time before they start shredding into the soil. So store your screws, crayons and stitch counters in those plastic containers. Wear those acrylic sweaters until you've worn them out, and replace them with wool or organic cotton. Fix that plastic stuff whenever you can, don't just throw it out. We brought it into the world - we have the obligation to keep it useful as long as possible.

And the plastic you *can* justify purchasing is recycled plastic, especially for long term usage - go ahead and use plastic lumber on your deck, as long as it is made from 100% recycled plastic. We want more of the plastic we have to be recycled - at the same time that we stop making more. But most important is simply to stop buying it - to find alternatives whenever possible and tell people "I don't want to bring more plastics into the world."



Sara said...

When you get around to writing about e-waste, you should take a look at NextStep Recycling:

It's both a recycling story and an autism story -- the woman who heads the group is autistic, and one of her fixations is with, you guessed it, electronics recycling and refurbishing. She came and spoke at our neighborhood association meeting recently and it's just a fascinating (and inspirational) story.

Anonymous said...

Any ideas for what to use in a freezer then if not plastic freezer bags and containers??

kettunainen said...

There are stackable glass containers available at Ikea (at US and Canadian stores) -- glass tops, glass bottoms, silicone seal -- that are supposedly freezer-safe. It's part of their 365+ series and they come in two sizes.

jewishfarmer said...

I use glass canning jars for freezing. They seem to hold up just fine.


LimeSarah said...

You can put glass jars in the freezer -- just either freeze them lidles and then put the lids on them, or be very sure to leave space at the top so they don't explode if they're high-water.

Are there alternatives to plastic-bristle toothbrushes produced that do as good of a job at cleaning teeth?

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Gayle said...

I have decided after watching Tapped to deplasticize our life. It is crazy when you look around you and realize how bombarded we are with plastics and the damage that is being done. We have incorporated this in our health study in our homeschool curriculum and my son has made it his mission to live a better life and everyday points out something to me we need to change and tries to educated his friends on plastics and pollution.

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