13 Reasons To Find Alternatives To Plastic
~ By Tangee Veloso-Pueblos
Plastic – it’s everywhere! So what do you do when EVERYTHING is practically made, wrapped and sealed in plastic? Just witness this, the next time you step foot in a grocery store, try to find how many items that do not consist of plastic. Unfortunately, it will be very slim, trust me. It is literally discouraging seeing every aisle plastered in this stuff.
Gratefully we are moving further away from plastic as more cities are starting to ban the use of plastic bags. And fortunately this is the case for us Angelenos too! YES! Los Angeles has just recently become one of the biggest cities in the nation to approve banning plastic bags at supermarkets! LA is now joining other cities like Calabasas, Santa Monica, Long Beach, San Jose, and the very first city in California that banned plastic bags, San Francisco to help in contributing less waste in our landfills and oceans!
When I heard this news a couple of months ago, standing at the checkout stand at Target, it was like music to my ears! After refusing to have the items I just purchased to be bagged in one of those atrocities, the woman smiled at me and shared this exciting piece of information to me. My heart skipped a beat and I was completely ecstatic!
But then I started reading up on why banning plastic bags may not be the best answer and how charging a fee for the bags is the better route. An article called “Myth: Bag Bans are the Best Solution” from a great resource, Reuse It got me thinking. Whatever the case may be, whether we’re banning them or charging a fee, people are starting to become more aware and conscientious to the fact that plastic bags are harmful to the environment.
And how, we here at Family Love Village (FLV) got more conscious to it was by featuring a film called “Bag It!” at our very first Documentary & Dinner Night a year ago this very same month. This was such an eye-opening and enlightening film with wonderful moments of humor so as not to shock people too much into the gloom and doom of this topic yet still hold its purpose and importance. It had literally changed the way I looked at plastic forever! I mean, I already knew the detrimental effects of plastic bags and plastic in general and was a pretty eco-friendly advocate to begin with (or so I thought). My family definitely did our best to use less plastic especially when it came to our son’s toys (which are for the most part, wooden or recycled BPA-free toys) and we had even stopped using plastic bags before watching this documentary. Yet I was still guiltily using those smaller plastic bags whenever I would buy bulk items. But after that most educational evening, it completely changed my family’s decision to not use plastic bags for good.
Here are some interesting and appalling facts that I derived from the “Bag It!” website (which has further information and facts), as well as notes I wrote when we watched the documentary:
- In the United Statesalone, an estimated 12 million barrels of oil is used annually to make the plastic bags that Americans consume. The United States International Trade Commission reported that 102 billion plastic bags were used in the U.S. in 2009. Their manufacture, transportation and disposal use large quantities of non-renewable resources and release equally large amounts of global-warming gases.
- The production of plastic bags requires petroleum and often natural gas, both non-renewable resources that increase our dependency on foreign suppliers. Additionally, prospecting and drilling for these resources contributes to the destruction of fragile habitats and ecosystems around the world.
- Annual cost to US retailers alone is estimated at $4 billion.
- Governments around the world have taken action to ban or restrict the use of plastic bags. In 2008, China banned the use of ultra-thin plastic bags, and it is estimated to have eliminated 40 billion bags in the first year. Irelandplaced a fee on plastic bags and reportedly reduced consumption by 90%.
- Towns all over the United Statesare rising to the challenge and standing up to the oil, gas and plastic industries. The ACC (American Chemistry Council) spends millions to combat anti-plastic bag campaigns. In spite of this challenge, U.S.cities including Austin, Boston, New Haven, Portland, Phoenixand Annapolisare considering bag bans or fees.
- In a landfill, plastic bags take up to 1,000 years to degrade. As litter, they breakdown into tiny bits, contaminating our soil and water.
- About 2,480,000 tons of plastic bottles and jars were disposed of in 2008 around the world. Unfortunately, plastic is not disposable and the use of these items leads to environmental degradation.
- After being disposed, plastic containers and water bottles get placed in overflowing landfills, clogged rivers, and our ocean. And when the plastics break down, they do not biodegrade. Instead they break down into fragments that contaminate our natural resources.
- The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is an area of the Pacific Oceancreated by the currents of the North Pacific Gyre. It’s a plastic soup that in some areas has concentrations of plastic 40 times greater than that of plankton. That means there is 40 times more plastic than food for the marine animals to eat. Scientists estimate its size to be at least twice the area of Texas.
- 80% of the plastic and trash that finds its way into our oceans comes from the land. It takes about five years for garbage from the west coast of the United Statesto make it to the gyre and about one year from Asia.
- Plastic debris in the ocean photodegrades, meaning sunlight and water break it down to smaller and smaller pieces that are mistaken for food by fish, sea birds and marine mammals. Hundreds of thousands of marine animals die every year when they eat plastic bags mistaken for food.
- Biologists studying BPA and phthalates (which are found in plastic) are in agreement over the harmful effects of both chemicals. These chemicals are now proven to be toxic, endocrine-disrupting, hormone level-changing, and disease-causing. Do your best to avoid them by reading labels, using reusable containers and bottles, and seeking out BPA and phthalate-free products.
- Where does the plastic go beyond the blue bin? And was the recycling logo created as a marketing strategy just so ACC (American Chemistry Council) can make more plastic products out of non-renewable resources? I was completely shocked when I found about this and investigated even further and read an article by Lisa Kaas Boyle called “Recycling Plastic: What a Waste”.
So now that you’ve read a summary of the disturbing facts from the website and the movie about plastic, here are some alternatives to using it.
- Reduce or REFUSE to use single use items, such as plastic utensils, straws, cups and plates. There are many wonderful alternatives that are biodegradable, compostable and sustainable. Just think how much of an impact you can make by making the choice to use what you’ve got, or by using eco-friendly food and beverage ware for your parties, weddings and gatherings. Or better yet, do what FLV does and bring your own dishware to gatherings. That’s how we do it for our potluck workshops. To some, it may sound tedious or maybe even more costly but after reading the facts above, what’s more tedious and costly to you and the health of your family and the planet?
- BYOB – bring your own bag! Whether it’s for grocery shopping, buying clothes or other items, keep extra reusable cloth shopping bags in your car. A couple of great websites are www.ecobags.com and www.chicobag.com (which actually fits in your pocket!).
- Bring your own stainless steel water bottle.
- Avoid bottled water and filter your own instead.
- Bring your own coffee mug. Have you ever noticed that when people go to a coffee chain, they order their coffee and receive them in those coffee cups (which are lined in plastic) and end up drinking the coffee at the coffee shop? Wasn’t the concept of this to be “to go”?! Then several minutes later, the coffee cup gets discarded and once again it is a single use item back into the landfills and oceans.
- Bring your own reusable container for take-outs at restaurants that serve in plastic or Styrofoam. Even ask the butcher at your grocery store to package your food in your reusable container. And pack your lunches in these reusable containers, as well. A reusable container could come in the form of stainless steel tiffins or non-toxic sandwich bags made from cotton. A couple of resources are www.happytiffin.com and a great review on various sandwich bags and wraps comes from My Plastic Free Life.
- Buy less cans and more bottled goods – did you know that canned food is lined in BPA?? But there is hope and at least there are several that have made the transition to BPA-FREE cans.
- Buy in bulk, which is the least-packaged option in avoiding single-use, disposable packaging. Eco-Bags (as mentioned above) has a great selection of bags for bulk items.
- Instead of using soap and shampoo in plastic containers, use bar soap and shampoo.
- Read labels and buy phthalate-free personal care products. Phthalates are plasticizers that are used as additives in products to help make the fragrance last longer.
As Jeb Berrier (the film’s main character) asks, “Why would you make something out of a material that is going to last forever, and you’re just going to throw it away?”
Such a good question. One that should also be asked within the school systems. Why school systems you ask? Hey if the ACC is trying to brainwash our children by adding it in the textbooks for schools (read more here), then let’s educate our young with the truth!
I know there’s a lot of information here that can get overwhelming so do what you can – it’s all about baby steps. Even sharing this article or watching the documentary “Bag It!” is one more step towards making a difference. As Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world”. By continuously taking these steps, it will bring us closer to a healthier planet for ourselves and our children!