Are We Using and Relying on Too Many Plastic Products?

One day out of each year, since March 21,1970, people have celebrated “Earth Day” to bring a worldwide conscious effort to the detrimental effects we humans have created on the only planet we know and live on. This environmental awareness movement was the brainchild of Senator Gaylord Nelson as far back as 1962 when he decided that one of the things that needed to be brought forth to attention on the political agenda, should be the addressing issues of the environment to both politicians and citizens alike. Eight long years passed before his tireless efforts became a reality and the first Earth Day was celebrated. Ever since then, one day during the month of April is set aside to remind ourselves of the detrimental affects we humans have created in the world’s environment. But how much has really changed during all these years? Are we really any better off?

Many of us are very conscientious of the horrific and damaging effects we ourselves have created over the past few centuries beginning as far back as the Industrial Revolution that have harmed our environment. In many cases it’s irreversible damage that can’t be undone. In the past few decades conscientious people have developed the “go green” philosophy, but not all. All too many of us still have the “disposable” attitude in society, and no where is this more apparent then our heavy use of plastic products.

Yes, plastic has become a true convenience for us in many aspects. It’s cheaper to produce, cheaper to buy and a lot more lightweight than the more natural products. Items that used to be made out of wood, glass, or metal have been replaced by the variety of durable plastics. It wasn’t really all that long ago, that beverages such as milk, juice, sodas, and water were sold in glass containers. Now all these beverages are sold in plastic bottles instead. Plastic bags are all too readily handed out like candy at any supermarket or other store, when formerly there were only paper bags, which, while not as durable as those plastic bags, as they often risked tearing, at least they didn’t harm the environment. The most alarming fact that it is estimated that up to one trillion, yes, one trillion plastic bags have been used worldwide each and every year. (1) Even a simple thing like buying a dozen eggs, which used to be sold in cardboard-type cartons, have now been replaced by probably the most toxic and environmentally unfriendly plastic derived material of all–styrofoam.

What is really needed is a true and honest effort to replace our plastic buying habits and usage and maybe even pressure companies to use more environmentally friendly and biodegradable items instead of relying too much on plastic products. Also, the most surprising fact that most people probably don’t realize about plastics is that all are compounds made and derived from petroleum…cut down on the use of plastics, and we also cut down on our reliance on petroleum usage.

Over the years, many have been falsely under the impression that those handy plastic bags we are constantly getting at stores are degradable. Not so. Those plastic bags do eventually deteriorate if and only under constant exposure to the sun, and let’s face it, the garbage we throw out by the tons everyday that is dumped and winds up in our landfills aren’t.

Thankfully some progress is being made to cut down on all this plastic bag usage, from charging a small fee or tax for bags to encourage people to at least reuse the bags they have, or to an almost all outright banning of all plastic bags, such in Australia, Bangladesh, Ireland, India and Italy, just to name a few countries. (1)

The next great offender in our over-usage of plastic, is of course those convenient beverage bottles, particularly those small spring water or juice bottles. Every time you buy that small Poland Spring, Evian or anyone of the “pure” waters in those bottles and throw them out you’re contributing to the damage to our environment. Reusing those bottles is not the answer either. For a long time, I have to admit, on occasion I would buy those water bottles, and thinking that I was doing something to help the environment, instead of throwing them out, would refill the bottles. I didn’t realize that I was in fact exposing myself to potential health risks from the toxins that are found in all plastic bottles. All beverage bottles are manufactured with the idea of one-time usage only. When one reuses such a bottle, one is actually endangering their health, for the older the bottle is and the more it has been reused the more the likelihood that chemical toxins from the plastic is leaching into the beverage.

Next point, think of all the plastic utensils, cups, plates and take out containers (usually made out of styrofoam) that are not only used in most fast food chains, or coffee shops, but even in the more expensive restaurants. What most people don’t realize that there are environmentally friendly, biodegradable alternatives for any of these items, and it may stun people to know that such items can be manufactured of either sugarcane and/or believe it or not, potatoes! I only learned this fact myself, upon watching a recent “Earth Day” episode of Oprah Winfrey. Her guests that day, included the actresses Juila Roberts and Sandra Bullock. (2)

For those of you not aware of it, Ms. Bullock is a real staunch advocate of the whole “Go Green” movement. She owns a restaurant in the Austin, Texas area called Bess Bistro, and on Oprah Winfrey’s show she demonstrated her usage of utensils made out of potatoes, by such companies as SpudWare (http://www.inhabitat.com/2007/10/13/spudware-cutlery-made-from-potatoes/) although this is just one manufacturer of such utensils. Then there are such companies as The Sugar Cane Paper Company (http://www.thesugarcanepapercompany.com/product/) and World Centric (http://www.worldcentric.org/store/samples.htm) that manufactures many items that are normally either made out of paper or plastic from plates, take out containers, tissues, napkins and so forth.

I realize that we can’t eliminate plastics completely in our lives. I don’t think any of us can envision a switch to non-plastic products in the manufacture of TVs, Computers, car parts, and appliances in general, but there are several steps we can all take to at least cut down on our usage of too much plastic.

1). Many stores now sell reusable bags for shopping purposes and are as inexpensive as a mere 99�¢. These bags are usually made of nylon, which, yes is also a synthetic fabric made and derived from petroleum, but unlike plastic bags are more readily reusable and most of all durable and washable. Besides finding such bags at stores, there are numerous websites one can order these bags and range from about $5.00 and up. I provide a link of just a few websites one can purchase these reusable bags from.

2). Instead of buying those small beverage bottles, invest and get a reusable bottle that are not only safer for the environment, but safer for one’s health. Once again one can buy these bottles in most stores or there are numerous websites one can order from such as the Reusablebags.com. Also, consider investing in a water filtering system, such as Brita that one can attach to one’s faucet rather than buying bottled water in the first place.

3). Instead of accepting that take out cup of coffee, tea or even soup from a shop, have a reusable coffee container, mug or thermos and ask them to fill that instead…that will be one less plastic or styrofoam cup being tossed into the environment.

4). If you really want to become the activist about changing how plastics are used, start writing campaigns. Here are just a few ideas of whom to write to:

a). The most obvious is to write to your local political representatives urging either a strict reduction or complete banning of plastic, non-reusable bags. Lets make this a nationwide effort!

b). Put pressure on fast food chains or private restaurants to switch to the environmentally friendly utensils, plates and storage or take out containers that are made of completely biodegradable materials rather than plastics.

c). Write to companies that still use styrofoam. This can range from egg companies to even supermarket chains that use styrofoam for packing not only eggs, but meats.

I know this probably seems a lot to ask for, but if we really all get on the bandwagon about this, and do this now, hopefully one day we can have the satisfaction that we contributed to truly helping our environment for generations to come, instead of damaging it even further.

Articles on the History of Earth Day

http://earthday.envirolink.org/history.html

http://64.233.169.104/search?q=cache:bw7PWNJlSREJ:www.abcteach.com/free/
r/rc_earthday_upperelem.pdf+When+did+earth+day+begin%3F&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=5&gl=us&client=firefox-a

Articles about Plastics (Bags, Bottles, etc)

http://www.commondreams.org/headlines04/0721-04.htm (1)

http://www.worldwatch.org/node/1499

http://www.teachingtools.com/Slinky/plastics.html

Oprah Winfrey’s Earth Day Episode

http://www2.oprah.com/world/enviro/green/green_main.jhtml (2)

http://www2.oprah.com/world/enviro/green/living/slide/living_sandra_350_402.jhtml (2)

Reusable Bag Websites

http://store.chicobag.com/

http://baggubag.com/SHOP.html

http://www.reusablebags.com/store/shopping-bags-c-2.html

Reusable Beverage Bottles

http://www.reusablebags.com/store/reusable-bottles-c-19.html

http://www.brita.com.au/britaproducts/filtersportbottle

Brita Website

http://www.brita.com/

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