5/19/2007

plastic world

a scary heads-up -- this article documents how literally tons of plastic debris are accumulating in the world's oceans, disintegrating but not biodegrading, and leaching organic pollutants into the environments, and our food chain. the article further suggests some of the many possible links between the various chemicals given off by plastics and rampant health problems in the US such as cancer and diabetes.

in some ways, this news isn't surprising -- we've known for many years that plastic does not biodegrade, and at the same time, it's become increasingly ubiquitous to postindustrial living. i'm trying to imagine how i would eliminate disposable plastic from my life, and realizing that even after the most basic trip to the grocery store, i'd return home with shrink-wrapped cheese (made with carcinogen-laden PVC), plastic containers of yogurt (#5, polypropylene, notoriously difficult to recycle partly because there's no aftermarket), plastic bagged organic lettuce (so much for the value of organic!), and plastic inserts in cereal, oatmeal and cracker boxes -- even if i remember to bring my reusable cloth bag. shopping at a farmer's market or buying from a CSA helps with plastic-free produce, but it remains endemic to the way most of us obtain our food (to say nothing of eating out -- how many restaurants still use styrofoam containers for take-out and doggie-bags?).

while i'm feeling renewed motivation to cut down on plastic all together, consumer action really isn't a sufficient solution. while many cities now offer curbside recycling (although notably, Chicago's program is still appallingly flawed and ineffective), it's unclear how much plastic makes it to a recycling plant -- numbers 1 and 2 are apparently the easiest to recycle, again, because there's a market for the recycled material, but plenty more is shipped overseas, handsorted, and unless easily recyclable, probably tossed (often creating hazardous working conditions and environmental contamination in the process). a longterm solution requires substantial government regulation (and business self-regulation) to ensure that producers, not consumers, take responsibility for the lifecycle of their goods -- using nontoxic materials that can be endlessly reused without causing further ecological damage or health problems. while we can all contribute to reducing demand for plastics as retail consumers, we can probably be most effective as political constituents putting pressure on businesses and legislators to make more far-reaching changes.

but ultimately, i keep asking myself -- if plastics don't biodegrade, why do we still conceive of plastic products as disposable?

1 comment:

Beth in the Fake Plastic Fish Tank said...

Hi. I came across your post as I was looking for plastic-free ways to keep produce fresh. I blog at http://www.fakeplasticfish.com about ways we can reduce our plastic consumption and plastic waste. I have used cotton Eco Bags dampened with water, and they work for some produce, but not loose lettuce. Any ideas?