The Plastic Problem

Learning more about toxic-free living has heightened my awareness of how much plastic I use and waste every day.  It’s in everything from Metro transit cards to sandwich baggies to bottles of soap and beauty products.  So I’m trying to cut back on plastic for two main reasons…

BPA
It wasn’t until I started seeing products being marketed as “BPA free” several years ago that I began to wonder what the heck BPA was and why should I be free of it.  Recently I researched more about BPA, which the National Institutes of Healh (NIH) define as, “Bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical produced in large quantities for use primarily in the production of polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins.”  Not only is BPA found in products that we would probably guess like water bottles, take-out food containers, and food packaging but also things like the linings of cooking pots and pans, and reusable metal drink cups, for example.

Even though consumer awareness of BPA has risen in recent years,  detectable levels of BPA were found in 93% of participants ages 6+ in a 2003-2004 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study.  This data is “considered representative of exposures in the United States. Another reason for concern [about BPA], especially for parents, may be because some animal studies report effects in fetuses and newborns exposed to BPA.”

I have become very stringent about using glass food storage containers knowing that almost daily I re-heat leftovers for lunch at work.  I also am moving over to metal and ceramic reusable to-go cups for my morning tea and smoothies.  These containers are a bit heavier and bulkier on the go, but that’s a small burden compared to the potential effect of these chemicals on my body and maybe future Hilary Jrs!

Environment
Another reason that I want to try to decrease my “plastic footprint” is to help out poor planet Earth a bit.  A few months ago I heard about something called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP), which sounded horrifying.  A bit of quick, unreliable Google Image research brought me to this photo:

Manila Harbor

Thankfully, this is not accurate despite looking exactly how I would have pictured a garbage patch.  That is actually a widely-spread photo of Manila harbor.  (Although, it’s still sad that this does exist at all).  The GPGP isn’t a huge floating mass of large pieces of trash that we might imagine from its name but actually a plethora of tiny pieces of plastic that have broken down over time. According to National Geographic, “The amount of debris in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch accumulates because much of it is not biodegradable. Many plastics, for instance, do not wear down; they simply break into tinier and tinier pieces.  About 80% of the debris in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch comes from land-based activities in North America and Asia. Trash from the coast of North America takes about six years to reach the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, while trash from Japan and other Asian countries takes about a year.”  So it’s very possible that a plastic Deer Park water bottle that was in my possession for about 20 minutes more than 6 years ago is now floating in tiny pieces in the ocean.

The garbage patch is a huge problem because it blocks out sunlight that is vital to sea life and therefore the food chain, not to mention that many marine creatures ingest the garbage.  Recycling is a great start but 1) think of all the events or outdoor activities that only provide a garbage can and no recycling option, and 2) we would be naive to think that ALL the products we throw in a recycling bin actually make it to a recycling processing plant rather than a landfill.

To keep my consumption plastic in check, I try to patronize companies with greener shipping policies like Honest.com when shopping online. Keeping my canvas totes in my car helps to remind me to always bring them into the grocery store.   I ask my dry cleaner not to use plastic bags to separate my garments and if I forget to ask, I knot the hanger holes and reuse the covers as garbage bags.  And I’ll keep trying to think of ways to diminish plastic from my life.  Planet Earth, I got yo back.