I recently read a blog post written by a biologist about a beached gray whale who’s stomach, upon necropsy, was found to contain gallons of plastic and other waste. The article went on to talk about the extent of plastic pollution in our oceans and how every other species on the planet is suffering because of it. Talk about depressing.
When you combine stories of where discarded plastics end up when we’re done with them with the story of where they come from and what they’re made of (petrochemicals), its hard not to feel a little overwhelmed. Especially when you start hearing about all the ways petrochemical companies are throwing their financial weight around to prevent lawmakers from regulating the production or disposal of plastic products.
Plastics are bad for us, they are bad for the environment, but these companies just go right on making them and marketing them, and when lawmakers step in to protect people and the environment from them lobbyists are sent in, followed by marketers and spin doctors and next thing you know industry funded studies are released to media about bacteria growth in unwashed reusable shopping bags, law makers are convinced BPA bans would cause infant formula shortages, and there are mass labelings of consumer goods as ‘BPA free!’ to try and convince us that plastics without this one component are still safe.
There is no ‘safe plastic’; even products labeled ‘BPA free’ are not guaranteed to be safe as the chemicals used to replace BPAs in plastic consumer goods have not been tested for safety long term any more then BPA was before it was used. In fact, there is nothing anywhere that says these things need to be tested for long term safety at all. Scary stuff to think about.
The most terrifying part of all of this is the plastic byproducts and toxins we can’t see. It’s the broken down chemical bits of it contaminating our water systems and food chains. It’s the hidden petrochemical plastic byproduct lining our tin cans, and even the chemical residue on cashier receipts, It’s the fact that some of these toxic plastic byproducts have been found in quite high concentrations in human breast milk.*
So I read about the poor beached gray whale, and I thought about the chemicals and the oil and the cost that a few people’s profit is having on our health. And I decided it would be cathartic to completely purge my home of plastic. Or as completely as I can, starting with the items we are in direct contact with the most like dishes and food packaging.
Here are a few more ways you can limit consumption of plastic for your own health and the health of the planet:
Bring your own water bottle. If you have a reusable water bottle made of glass or stainless steel with you when you’re out of the house the urge to buy beverages in plastic containers from lunch counters or vending machines is curbed dramatically. If you absolutely must drink soft drinks, you can always fill your plastic free drink container from a soda fountain. You can check out week 4 for ideas on reducing other food and beverage packaging as well.
Remember your bags! That whale I mentioned earlier had over 20 plastic bags in its digestive track at the time of his death. While there are a few clever ideas out there for reusing them and plastic bag recycling programs are popping up all over the place, the best way to avoid these bags ending up floating around our natural ecosystems is to stop using them all together.
Seek out non-plastic alternatives. If there is an item you are looking to purchase, think about the plastic components of it and seek out alternatives. This is not always easy these days. Just the other week we were looking for a step stool to give the toddler a bit of kitchen and bathroom independence. When we looked for new items at a certain big blue box store we couldn’t find a single non-plastic option. We searched several other stores to no avail and were about to settle for a plastic one when we ended up finding an old wooden stool a family member was willing to give us. With a little less patience on our part it would have been tough to come away without a cheap plastic one.
Reduce over all consumption with simplicity. Again, the best way to curb the amount of plastics in our environment is to stop using plastic, and since plastics are so prevalent in consumer goods these days, the easiest way to avoid plastic is to avoid buying things we don’t need by living simply. If you weren’t around for week 1, check out that challenge to see what I mean by living simply.
The purge. This is what I am doing. Many of the plastics in our home actually did find there way out the door when we were doing the big de-clutter back in week one, I was very sure to make sure most if not all of the plastic toys the toddler plays with made it into the give-away bin, and I got rid of a lot of old plastic Tupperware. There are still a lot of products around that we can either find or make non-plastic alternatives for, or that we could do without. The plastic items that we are getting rid of will be either recycled (where possible) or given away to people who may want them. I will be doing my best to make sure they will be out of my home, but hopefully not sitting in a landfill. After that, sheer determination to simply not allow plastics into my home in the first place will hopefully keep our plastic consumption and waste to a minimum.
What are your thoughts on plastics? Do you have any tips or tricks for avoiding them?
*Before anyone takes my head off. I am by no means suggesting we not breast feed our babies, the risks of using breast milk alternatives still outweigh the risk of possible toxins in breast milk. Breastfeeding is the biologically normal way for children to be fed and steps need to be taken to protect it including regulating and banning toxins that affect the health of all people.