Jun 26, 2017
by Rebel Fagin
Plastic Free July, like Earth Day, is an annual reminder of what we need to do every day.
Plastic is made from oil. People kill for oil with guns, with joy sticks and by tossing garbage into our waterways.
Eight million tons of plastic are dumped into the sea annually.Plastic breaks down into microplastic and then, no further. Plastic is often mistaken for food by water animals. Roughly 100,000 marine mammals and turtles, one million seabirds, and countless fish are killed worldwide by plastic they mistakenly eat each year. It clogs up their digestive tracts and they starve to death.
There are five garbage gyres in our seas. These aren’t islands, they are endless clouds of barely submerged plastic garbage. The one in the North Atlantic is twice the size of Texas. The others are in the South Pacific, the North and South Atlantic and the Indian Ocean.
Not all plastic is safe or recyclable. The number in the triangle gives you a clue. #1 is usually clear. It’s used in soda and water bottles, salad dressing, mouth wash and peanut butter containers. It’s recycled into bags, furniture, carpet, paneling, fiber and polar fleece. #2 is opaque and used for milk jugs, juice bottles, shampoo, cereal box liners, motor oil, yogurt and butter tubs. It’s recycled into pens, recycling containers, picnic tables, lumber, benches, decking and fences. #4 is found in squeezable bottles, shopping bags, clothing, carpet, frozen foods and bread bags. It’s recycled into compost bags, paneling, trash can liners and cans, floor tiles and shipping envelopes. These are the “safe” plastics.
Plastic #3 (vinyl) is used to make food wrap, detergent bottles and plumbing pipes. It may contain phthalates, which are linked to health problems ranging from developmental problems to miscarriages. They also contain DEHA, which can be carcinogenic and has been linked to loss of bone mass and liver problems. #3 is found in shampoo bottles, clear food packaging, cooking oil bottles, medical equipment, piping and windows. It’s recycled into paneling, flooring, speed bumps, decks and roadway gutters. #5 is used in yogurt containers, ketchup, syrup and medicine bottles. It’s recycled into brooms, auto battery cases, bins, pallets, bikes, ice scrapers and signal lights. #6 is Styrofoam. Rarely if ever recyclable, it damages the ozone as well as leaches potentially toxic chemicals, especially when heated. It can be found in some egg cartons, meat trays, disposable plates and cups. #7 is the “other” category that includes polycarbonates which are toxic. These plastics may contain BPA which is linked to infertility, hyperactivity, hormone disrupters, reproductive problems and other health issues. It’s found in sunglasses, iPod cases, computer cases, nylon, three and five-gallon water bottles and bullet-proof materials. It’s recycled into plastic lumber.
Plastic is made from oil and some people recycle plastic. Companies like Green Mary or Waste Busters help participants at public events dispose of their waste in a green manner. For over ten years Jon and Betty Shelley of Portland have kept their landfill-bound garbage down to one 35-gallon can a year.
Recycling starts at home. One way you can improve your game is by visitingmyplasticfreelife.com orzerowastehome.com. Keep your recycled paper dry and keep food waste out of the recycling. Recycling involves people handling material. Keep diapers and broken glass out of the recycling. Flattened plastics is often mistaken for paper. Multi-material items, like Cliff bar wrappers, aren’t recyclable. Don’t “wish” recycle, just include what your recycler can take.
Food waste is carbon based and emits greenhouse gases while decaying. 70% of global food waste ends up in landfills. Composting changes all this. They're currently 800 industrial-scale waste-to-energy (WTE) plants in more than three dozen countries with thousands of smaller systems at individual sites. Most employee aerobic digesters which use microorganisms to break down and covert organic waste into biogas, biodiesel or ethanol. City buses then run on this fuel thereby keeping other gases in the ground where they belong.
There are a growing number of companies such as EverGreen, SpudWare and Ecoproducts who produce compostable one-time-use plates, cups, bowls, utensils, takeout containers, and cup lids made from vegetables, bamboo, wheat straw, sugarcane and palm leaves.
July is plastic free month. How’re you going to celebrate? What can you do better? List your actions atPlasticFreeJuly.org
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