Every piece of plastic that has ever existed is still with us today.
Once plastic is discarded, over the course of several years it begins to break down into smaller particles that then attract and interact with toxic chemicals, get ingested by wildlife (land and sea), and contaminate our food chain. Today, our oceans and waterways are full of these tiny particles. Sea birds and fish cannot distinguish between plastics and food. When they eat the plastic waste, their bodies are unable to digest it and they eventually die with bellies so full of plastic that no food or water can pass through them.
Plastics are not destroying the environment; it’s our use of plastics that have compromised our health and the planet. Since we know this material can last hundreds of years in the environment, we shouldn’t use it for purposes that last only a few days or, in some cases, seconds. I believe we need to use plastics in our everyday lives but we need to use them more responsibly. Biodegradable, bio-based, or compostable plastics are currently available solutions to the plastics issue however they are not the best options over the long term. The thought of having plastics that will eventually break down into nothing over a span of a few years is attractive but there is a down side to this option. The process of breaking down the petroleum-based bags causes carbon to become methane which is a greenhouse gas.
Recently we’ve learned of the tragic crisis in Flint, Michigan where untold numbers of people are suffering from lead poisoning stemming from the contamination of the Flint River. Almost instantly everyone started donating bottled water to give the residents a safe alternative to the river water coming through their faucets. While this is the most obvious and immediate solution, the down side is the waste generated from the tens of thousands of plastic bottles that are being shipped to Flint.
According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, only about 13% of plastic water bottles get recycled, the rest likely end up in landfills. Fortunately, Republic Services, a waste services company, is providing additional resources to Flint in support of the water bottle disposal.
Even though plastic has made a lot of things more convenient, it is one invention that I believe will eventually do more harm than good. The average person uses about 83 bags per year. In a household of four, that is 332 bags! While it is highly unlikely that our dependence on plastic bags will be eliminated any time soon, I encourage everyone that will listen to choose paper over plastic when given the option. Another great option is to use the reusable bags offered at many chains. Or, you could simply take your own bags to the store and use them repeatedly when you bag your own grocery items.