THE BLOG

The Disposable Plastic Crisis

01/11/2012 01:25 pm ET | Updated Mar 12, 2012

Have you ever wondered how much plastic is disposed of in one day? Do you ever really think about how much damage we are doing to ourselves and to our environment, because of our use and disposal of plastic? Well, the people at the Plastic Pollution Coalition have and they want all of us to join their cause to change the ways we think about, use, consume, and dispose plastics.

Plastic Pollution Coalition (PPC) was founded by Lisa Boyle, Dianna Cohen, Manuel Maqueda and Daniella Dimitrova Russo with two missions:

  • "End the global dependence on disposable plastic, the primary source of plastic pollution"
  • "Reduce the overall global plastic footprint for individuals, businesses and organizations"

A tall order considering we supposedly use and then discard about two million plastic bottles in North America every five minutes! And that's just plastic bottles, this is not taking into consideration every other type of plastic material we use, which includes: plastic bags, straws, cups, utensils and plates, most microwavable containers, plastic wrap, and the list goes on. All these materials have been integrated into our lives with none of us taking a second thought about it. Furthermore, when we recycle any of these products, they are not being recycled at all, they are being (what PPC calls) down-cycling. Down-cycling, meaning: taking a material and turning it into other products, be it building materials, furniture, or the like, but PPC says not even this is happening. According to EPA data from 2008, "In the U.S. 93% of plastics are NOT recovered (put in plastic 'recycling' bins). These go straight to landfills. PET bottles that have a redemption value (cash value) fare a bit better: 62% are NOT recovered." Their point is that encouraging recycling for plastic material of any kind is not a solution at all.

Now, some companies are trying to produce plastic in a much more "environmentally-friendly" way, which they call bioplastics. These plastic materials are supposedly made out of plant materials, biodegradable and non-toxic. The truth of the matter is, the production of these plastics still use a lot of additives and chemicals, which are harmful to the environment and to our health. The only way these plastics can be truly biodegradable, earth-friendly, and human-friendly is if they are:

  • derived from non-food, non-GMO grain
  • compostable and biodegradable
  • free of toxins during the manufacturing and recycling process
  • manufactured in a sustainable way (water, land and chemical use are considerations)
  • recyclable in a cradle-to-cradle cycle

However, even with this lofty idea, with the amount of plastic material that we throw away on a minute-by-minute basis, we will still continue to harm our environment and ourselves.

So the question you might be asking yourself is, what can we do? I think some of the things we can do are simple changes that we can incorporate in to our lives starting today. For instance, I try and make a point of buying all my liquids in glass containers, be it milk, juice, water, etc. And if something is not produced in a glass bottle, then I try and look for them in aluminum cans. I bought these beautiful, reusable bags, so whether I am going grocery shopping or even to the farmer's market, I take them with me. I know sometimes in the middle of the day or on our way home from work we might need to grab something at the store, so I have these compact bags that roll themselves up into super mini bags that I have with me at all times, and I take those out and use them, so this way I'm not putting the items I just bought into plastic bags. One of the suggestions PPC mentions is to carry around your own set of reusable utensils. Easier said than done, but one example I would like to mention about the use of plastic utensils is what they do in the food courts of Brazilian malls.

I have been traveling back and forth to Brazil over the course of two years. The first time I went to a shopping mall and ate at the food court, I thought I was eating at a fairly nice restaurant. I would say 95% of the restaurants either prepare the food fresh for you in open kitchens or they are laid out in buffets. What was the most surprising thing is that every plate is some form of ceramic and every utensil is metal. I thought, wow, this is wonderful! I understand that labor is very inexpensive and the people that work in the food courts clean all of this so it's reusable, but how difficult would that be for us here in North America to incorporate? And imagine the amount of plastic material or any other material we would save from being disposed. I think this is something we really need to take into consideration. (For a list of other changes PPC suggests we do, you can read them here.)

I believe this crisis is not just about saving our planet for generations to come, it's about changing our lifestyle and habits now that can greatly impact our environment and our health.

For more information about Plastic Pollution Coalition, you can check out their site, follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and become a member here. Don't just reduce, reuse, and recycle, we also need to REFUSE.

Quotes from Plasticpollutioncoalition.org.