We’re delighted to feature guest blogger, Beth Terry, for Week 32′s Impact Effort. Beth’s been blogging since 2007 at Fake Plastic Fish, and collecting and tallying her own plastic waste and writing on plastic-free alternatives. We hope that 52 Week followers will join us in taking up Beth’s challenge and collect your own personal plastics for the week, building awareness about the plastic in our lives. We’ll check back later in the week — we’ll show you ours if you show us yours!
Why Collect Plastic Trash?
Plastic. It’s all around us. In our cars, our computer equipment, our toys, even our synthetic clothing. But the types of plastic posing the greatest environmental problems for planet Earth right now are single use disposable plastics — plastic bags, bottles, caps, food containers, utensils, straws, jars, wrappers, and all other kinds of plastic packaging.
Almost 3 years ago, I learned about the harm that plastic was causing to our environment and our health, and I resolved to live with as little plastic as possible. At the time, I really had no idea how much plastic waste I was generating in the first place. So I created my blog, Fake Plastic Fish, to track my own plastic consumption and to provide information on the plastic-free alternatives I found. Collecting my plastic waste was invaluable. It helped me discover just how much disposable plastic I was using and in what areas I needed to focus.
So What’s Wrong With Plastic?
1) Plastic is made from petroleum-based sources. Many people don’t realize that most plastic comes from non-renewable fossil sources such as oil and natural gas, which contribute to the greenhouse gases that lead to global climate change.
2) Plastics often contain toxic chemical additives, and they can leach. Most plastic products and packaging contain chemicals which enhance the material’s strength, flexibility, color, and even resistance to bacteria. Scientists are finding that all additives can leach from plastic, and many of them are harmful to our health. Examples are PVC plastic, commonly known as vinyl, may be stabilized with lead or softened with phthalates like DEHP, which disrupt hormones and affect the liver, kidneys, lungs and reproductive system. Bisphenol-A, an endocrine disruptor, is another additive of concern that can leach from hard plastic water bottles, baby bottles and the linings of metal cans. And even antibacterial chemicals like Triclosan are commonly added to plastics.
Unfortunately, we can’t know for sure that a particular plastic is safe because our laws in the United States do not require manufacturers to prove that their chemicals are safe before putting them on the market, nor are manufacturers required to reveal what additives they use in the first place. Until we have laws mandating testing of products before they enter the market, we as consumers are wise to avoid plastic products and packaging whenever possible.
3) Plastic is not biodegradable. The plastic that we throw away never actually goes away. Because there is no naturally occurring organism that can break down plastic, it lasts in the environment virtually forever, filling up our landfills and taxing our over-burdened waste management system. Why create disposable containers and packaging out of a material meant to last forever?
4) Plastic waste harms wildlife and even humans. Plastic may not biodegrade, but it can break down into smaller and smaller pieces of plastic that fill up not only our landfills but also our oceans and cause harm to wildlife. While no organism can digest plastic, there are quite a few animals that are harmed while trying: Leatherback sea turtles choke on plastic bags they mistake for food; Laysan albatross chicks starve with their bellies full of plastic bottle caps and lighters. Even the fish we eat ingest plastic that has been caught in the zooplankton and passed up the food chain to us.
5) Plastic is not truly recyclable. Most plastic recycling is actually considered “downcycling.” Rather than recycling a bottle into another bottle, for example, plastics can only be “recycled” into other products such as carpet or polar fleece or plastic lumber. That means that virgin plastic must be used to create each new bottle or container, and the recycling loop is never actually closed. What’s more, most of our plastic “recycling” is shipped overseas to countries like China, where worker safeguards do not exist to protect whole towns from becoming toxic waste dumps for our discarded plastic.
Take The Challenge
I believe that change begins on the personal level. So last year, I created the Show Us Your (Plastic) Trash Challenge on Fake Plastic Fish to encourage readers to see for themselves how much plastic waste they were generating and to help them figure out a few ways to cut down. The challenge is not a contest, and it is not about guilt or shame. It’s simply a way for each of us to realize how plastic has inundated our lives, to learn what we can do about it personally, and to discover the limits to our personal actions and understand where we need businesses and governments to step in to reduce that amount of single use disposable packaging that is created in the first place.
I would love 52 Weeks of Impact readers to join the challenge! Collect your own plastic waste for one week. At the end of that week, list the items, answer a few questions about what you have learned, and post a photo at the Show Us Your (Plastic) Trash web site. People who have taken the challenge already have gained important insights into their own personal habits and lifestyle. You can too!
Learning to live plastic-free since 2007
and blogging the heck out of it at http://fakeplasticfish.com.
Follow me on Twitter (http://twitter.com/fakeplasticfish)
or friend me on Facebook (http://facebook.com/beth.terry1).