By now, you know my stance on bottled water, and how ridiculous I believe the concept is. I have never thought twice about taking a plastic bag from a grocery store, however, I refuse to throw them away; so I let them build up in my cupboard, in hopes for re-use, and then when they are coming out of the doors, I finally recycle them. I was encouraged to watch the documentary called “Bag it” cleverly named to make connections with the plastic bag, and the slang meaning. I have studied environmental engineering for over a decade and I was shocked by the statistics stated in this film and my follow-up research.
We go through 500 Billion single-use plastic bags a year, the US alone goes through 5 million bottled water products every 5 minutes, and the US spends 12 Billion dollars on bottled water per year! Can you imagine how much money and energy we would all save by investing in a $20 Brita filter? That sure is a lot of trash, money, and energy for a few minutes of use. Your first thought may be “but I recycle, so…” Well, most plastic is not recyclable, including those plastic bags, and although most water bottles are, still 85% end up in a land fill or the ocean. Have you seen those pictures of ocean trash? Well 90% of it is plastic, and there’s a scientific explanation for it!
All plastic is made from oil… Yes the same non-renewable resource that causes world wars, fuels our cars etc. In 2006, 1.5 million barrels of oil was used to produce plastic, that number has likely jumped above 2 million today. To give you a visual, the amount of oil used to make one plastic water bottle is enough to fill it up half way! Basically we are drilling into the earth for something that takes 75,000,000 years to create, then processing, transforming, and transporting it, so that we can use it for a few seconds to minutes, and then throw out. All while most plastic is easily replaced by other material. Completely crazy to me!
To add to the insanity, these products (that we really don’t need) create a whole “bag” of problems in the environment, and to human health. The manufacturing of plastics release harmful chemicals into the air, such as PET, hydro carbons, carbon monoxide, and sulfur dioxide, which contribute to ozone holes, global warming, and human illness. Now that we have the plastic, we’re done doing the harm, right? Of course not, as it turns out, chemicals in plastic can leach into the largest organ of the human body (your skin), though pores causing the following issues:
PVC (which is not recyclable): causes cancer, birth defects, respiratory diseases, liver failure, blindness, and more
Phthalates (not recyclable): endocrine disruption, asthma, and often disposed of by incineration causing cancer, birth defects, reproductive issues etc.
Polycarbonates with Bisphenol A (water bottles): Bisphenol A is linked to cancers, hyperactivity, and hormonal problems, even in small doses
(More can be seen at: www. ecologycenter.org).
Statistics show that 85-90% of all bottles and almost 100% of remaining plastics end up in the ocean or landfill, where it remains intact for up to 1000 years. It does not break down, but the harmful chemicals can be leached into soil, water, or eaten by wildlife, and aquatic biota (and then we eat those contaminated fish).
So what can be done you ask? Well a number of countries have already banned the distribution of plastic bags in stores, and Ireland imposed a fee (which dropped plastic bag use by 90%!!). Over in the US, as usual, San Francisco was the first to ban plastic bags, however when neighboring areas tried to accomplish the same goal, they were sued by the American Chemistry Council (who loves to pretend they are pro-environment to ensure future company gain), and other plastic industries who do not want to lose business. Well “earth to chemists”: how long do you thing you can keep this up with a non- sustainable material business plan and a growing population?!
So I tried to ban plastic from my life… I kept forgetting my reusable bag for the grocery store, but after I had to walk home carrying more than I could, dropping things every two feet, yogurt dropping and exploding all over me, I found a way to remember. I took my dog out with my “biodegradable” bag, and figured I would call the company to find out what it’s made of. The girl was very chipper and proud to be associated with her “zero waste USA” company. When I asked what the bags are made of, she replied, “our bags are very special; they are oxo- biodegradable, which means that they are made with about 40% recycled plastic, and 60% new plastic.” I replied, “plastic??? Did I hear you right?? So you guys just lie on your label?!” She quickly said she would send me the data, which she did. This product is treated with a chemical called TDPA (which I can’t seem to find real data on) to breakdown when exposed to heat and oxygen in a landfill. Unfortunately for them, I am an engineer who is well aware that landfills function in anaerobic conditions (without oxygen). Soooo… their bags will not biodegrade – there will just be more plastic, in a landfill, with biodegradable material (poop) within them. I need to do more research on corn-based doggie disposal products, and their apparent methane release, as well as other products, to determine if I need to create something, or if there is something out there already.
In conclusion, everything in the world is connected, so everyone makes a difference. Refuse to use single use plastics by using reusable bags, water bottles, and buying products with less, or no packaging, and you too will be a superhero for yourself, and the planet!