Saturday, January 26, 2013

Plastics are not part of the web of life

A view of garbage.
Let me repeat this: Plastics are not part of the web of life. They do not truly recycle but downcycle. They inexorably accumulate despite the best efforts at recycling because the circle cannot be completed, so this cannot be called recycling. At best what we are doing is downcycling, modifying used plastics into lower grade plastics that can be used once or at most twice in some other form. After that, they reach the end of the line.

The consequence is that plastics keep accumulating in the landscape. Horrific examples abound: dead albatrosses with stomachs full of plastic fragments; turtles and other wildlife chocked to death by plastic rings; fish full of plastic. Worse yet, the smaller fragments are out of sight, but not entirely out of the picture. Some may be inert but many others are potential carcinogens and toxins. If they are eaten by animals, they become part of the food chain. Are we eating our own plastic garbage? We probably are.

Dead albatross chick.
 What to do? We may not be able to eliminate plastics entirely. Some plastics are useful, even highly valuable and we don't have to give all of them up. But we could start with the disposable, one-use only plastics, such as grocery bags and water bottles. They represent the largest bulk of plastic waste and there are easy ways to cut down on their consumption.

One-use bottles
Two great books should be helpful if we commit ourselves to the task of plastics: "Plastics, a Toxic Love Story by Susan Freinkel gives abundant information on plastics, their history, uses and recycling."Plastic-Free:How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too" by Beth Terry is equally informative. It is also packed full of suggestions on how you can reduce plastic usage. It also provides numerous useful links.

As for me, I have been taking steps toward reducing plastics. I take my reusable bags wherever I go, not just to grocery stores, but also other stores. Sometimes the cashier of a book store or drug store automatically reaches for a plastic bag, without noticing that I am holding my bag in front of him or her. In such cases, I promptly stop them with a smile and tell them: "We have to help the environment any way we can". I say it loud enough that other people in the line can hear me. I used to be embarrassed, but no more. I do my best to be cordial and to emphasize the word "we".

When eating out, I carry my own container and bag. When the waitress offers a doggy bag, I tell her I don't need one. I am not surreptitious about it anymore. Once again I speak loudly about helping the environment.

Biodegradable plastics.
I still don't know what to do with all the grocery items that come in plastic containers; although I am beginning to keep track of "green" stores that make an effort to provide egg cartons rather than Styrofoam ones, cardboard salad containers and similar items. But there is still a long way to go.

What suggestions do you have

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© Beatriz Moisset. 2013


Anonymous said...

Beatriz, what a great idea to make your comments about reducing plastic use a public service announcement! I love it! And the clever inclusion created by using the word "we" when mentioning saving the environment. I am totally with you - carrying my bags wherever I am going to shop, and water bottle. So many things we can't change, but here is a joint effort that is achievable. Thanks for helping people focus. I will be joining you in the public service announcement campaign!

Mary Ellen Ryall at said...

Well done Beatriz. Wonderful second career with pollinators after retirement. Monarch butterfly is my passion, a pollinator along with other butterfly species.

Am implementing Wild Butterfly Habitat on family land in Fitchburg. Here is a link to a newspaper article out today on upcoming butterfly talk at