I subscribe to the Broiler Room, a newsletter from Bad Manners (https://www.badmanners.com) about “food, pop culture, and everything that makes a meal.” Usually, their content is about—what else?—food. I highly recommend it, though I will warn that they use some … colorful … language. But recently their entire newsletter talked about plastics.
Yep. That’s right. With good reason, because plastics are intimately connected to our food production and distribution, and because we’ve come to a point in our global culture where we have added so much plastic to our environment, that our bodies are literally absorbing it into our organs and other tissues.
No one yet knows what this will mean for humans (or animals, or other living beings) long-term. But there’s so much of it, and it’s so darned ubiquitous, that we can’t see any way to get rid of it. I mean, think about it; how many of the items in your home, your car, your grocery purchases are made of or surrounded by or packaged in plastic? And how are we disposing of this stuff?
According to Emmanuelle Gammage , we’ve thrown away 6.3 billion metric tons of plastics since mass production began in the 1950s. Of those, only 600 million have been recycled. Gammage says that plastics do eventually decompose in a landfill, though it takes up to 450 years. Other sources, such as The Plastic Soup Foundation, say it never decomposes. Others say some plastics, like single-use plastic bags, don’t completely decompose, but instead they photo-degrade, or break down into microplastics that will contaminate the environment forever.
And all that stuff we’ve heard for years about recycling your plastic is mostly a lie. According to multiple sources (see links below), all the hype about recyclability of plastics was a marketing scheme to make plastic look safe, sustainable, green. It’s not. There is no infrastructure to process it reliably, and little desire to set one up among the entitles who could afford to do so. It’s not good for the bottom line. So we “shipped it to China.” Except China stopped taking “dirty foreign recyclables” in 2018. In 2015, the incineration of plastic packaging added 16 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions. Where does the rest end up? Landfills, rivers, streams, oceans.
Some companies are turning to biodegradable plastics, made from plants instead of fossil fuels. Their materials can be broken down by microbes and turned into biomass—water and carbon dioxide. Some, a small percentage, are even compostable. As commendable as these efforts are, though, they won’t solve all our plastic problems.
So what can we do?
- Be aware of your plastic usage. Whether it’s plastic grocery bags or plastic produce bags or plastic handbags, change things up to non-plastic substitutes wherever possible.
- Vote with your dollars. Purchase from companies who are committed to either reusing their plastics, or who are working to get plastics out of their production lines to the furthest extent possible. Check out the companies yourself; don’t let greenwashing fool you. Find authentic green businesses and support them. Making sustainability profitable might be the best way to bring big business onto the bandwagon.
- Stop with the single-use plastic straws. Period. Instead, choose reusable ones you can buy yourself. There are many options available in materials like silicon, stainless steel, glass, bamboo, reusable plastic, even grass!
- Switch to home-use products like wooden combs/brushes, wood-handled razors and shaving accessories, shampoo by the bar instead of the bottle, wooden or bamboo toothbrushes, natural sponges, laundry strips that need no bottles, and more. Google is filled with suggestions and options for reducing plastic use in your daily life.
There’s so much to this subject, I couldn’t possibly cover it all. Let this be the spark that ignites your curiosity, and helps you weed some of the plastics out of your garden.
Learn more here:
Exposing the plastic industry’s big lie about recycling
Plastic & Climate: The Hidden Costs of a Plastic Planet
California Reckons with the Hard Truth About Plastic Recycling