Sunday, October 14, 2007

Blog Action Day - The Environment: Plastics

Today is Blog Action Day and the umbrella topic is "the environment." Given my growing awareness of and concern for humanitarian and environmental issues, recently posted here, I wanted to at least post something to support the collective effort behind Blog Action Day.

There are so many important environmental issues and causes but lately I cannot help but feel that plastics pose one of the greatest environmental concerns at the consumer level. Of course, this is a controversial issue. Some arguments illustrating the dangers of plastics:

-Plastics are made from oil, making them a non-renewable resource with many toxic additives. It is therefore unlikely that plastics will biodegrade. This means that all the plastic sitting in landfills will likely remain there, perhaps forever.

-Despite the fact that plastic is recyclable, a small percentage of plastics are actually recycled. And all plastic used for food products must be made of virgin plastic and a significant percentage of plastics are made for this use.

-Plastics produce poisonous gases when burnt in incinerators.

-Most of the marine debris in the world is comprised of plastic materials. The average proportion varies between 60 to 80% of total marine debris.

-Globally, over 1.1 million marine mammals and turtles die every year from entanglement or ingestion of plastic.

Proponents of plastic argue that plastic saves energy because it weighs less, requiring less fuel to transport than glass containers, and plastic grocery bags require 30% less energy to make than paper bags. Arguments also perpetuate defending that plastics are in fact degradable in the right conditions.

Plastic is everywhere and I've only recently become alarmingly aware of just how prevalent plastic packaging is. I think one of the most unsettling aspects of plastic is what their prevalance indicates...gross consumerism. Packaging is really superfluous.

Although I've been recycling my water bottles and plastic shopping bags since I can remember, I've also thrown away A LOT of plastics...shampoo bottles, the exterior plastic wrap on products, garbage wrapped in plastic bags, etc. Plastic bags apparently pose one of the greatest environmental threats to animals and strike me as one of (if not the) most superfluous uses of plastic. Think about how long you use a plastic bag. You go to the grocery store, return home, unload groceries, and you're done with it. Maybe you reuse it at home and that's great. But how often do you put garbage in a plastic bag and toss it?

So, I am trying to reduce my plastic consumption. The steps I've taken are very simple and follow the Refuse, Reduce, Reuse principle:

- I REFUSE plastic bags at the grocery store as much as possible. Paper bags are not necessarily the solution here, either. So, I use a reusable shopping bag. You can also reuse the plastic/paper grocery bags provided by your grocery store by bringing them back in with you each visit.

-I have significantly REDUCED my consumption of individually bottled water. I used to go through cases of bottled water but now use a reusable water bottle. If you are not keen on drinking your tap water, a water filter is an easy solution.

-I REUSE bags and containers as much as possible. When I cannot reuse something, I recycle it.

These are very simple actions but prove to be an effective starting point. For me, awareness has been key. I am now very aware of packaging and everything I throw away or recycle. I realize the energy required to make and break down plastics. I appreciate that everything I throw away ends up in a landfill, where much of it will not decompose in my lifetime, or ever. Although most of us are not scientists and may not be able to come up with viable alternatives to plastics (thankfully there are scientists out there doing this!), we are all consumers and thus, possess tremendous power.

Again, awareness is essential and from there, accountability. Consider your own consumption and what you can do to reduce such. There is a great sense of fulfillment and connection with the Earth when we conscientiously make choices to preserve it.

Recycling Consortium.
Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow.
Plastic Bag Free Hebdenbridge.

Plastic bottle image from here.
Bird in plastic bag image from here.

Bloggers Unite - Blog Action Day


Richard said...

Plastics do not biodegrade because there are no organisms (as yet) which munch on the plastic, this breaking it down. However, there are numerous chemical processes that lead to plastic deterioration and breakdown. As far as I know, plastic is more likely to break down in the presence of sunlight than buried underground where there is limited opportunity for oxidation. Plastics are not terribly stable because they tend to be long polymer chains which are actually quite fragile. Contrast the life expectancy of a plastic cup versus a ceramic mug or glass cup. The latter are susceptible to breakage by dropping, but the former, after a period, will begin to yellow and crack.

Of course, the detritus of falling apart plastic is not really useful for anything other than inert filler. It provides no nutritional value to the soil.

Lots of things produce poisonous gases when burned.

I am glad you finally switched to drinking tap water (which, for most of in the privileged West is as good as the bottled stuff). I still can't get Sofia to stop with the bottled water.

Of course, bottled water is just one issue. Tetra paks also contain plastic, as do potato chip bags, candy wrappers (when was the last time you had a candy or chocolate bar wrapped in paper? I did when I was in Peru, but I can't think of a time in Canada).

You might be interested in knowing there is a growing need for plastics conservators since plastics are falling apart in museums. You can read more here and here.

Inspired by this post, I will change tomorrow's (assuming I post tomorrow) intended post to "What is wrong with this ad?" and finally post an entry on a Brita water filter ad that bugs me.

Ancilla said...

hey b, long time no "see".
maybe, our earth feels tired with what we have done so far. we just keep on doing what we love to without any further consideration.

and so did i.
but i hope things are getting better since a lot of environmental discussions, organizations and activists.

the warning of global warming can be found everywhere. it is a good thing right? at least people in the world can gather into one concern, not only about oil and nuclear. hehehehehe....

b said...

richard...thanks for all the great information. you really convey the science well...much better than i do. yes, plastic bags and bottled water are only a part of the mass of plastic packaging and i do notice all those other forms and uses of plastic. they are everywhere. looking forward to your post on that water filter ad.

ancilla...hi! yes, it has been awhile. as far as environmental issues, i certainly don't consider myself an activist but i care very much about the environment and want to help preserve it. i also feel disgusted by the excess that surrounds us here in america. there is so much we waste and that bothers me, particularly as i know that so many people in the world have much less than they need to survive and we are "swimming" in so many unnecessities. and i'm certainly not without some hypocrisy. i do find myself wanting things that i don't need all the time!!