Overwhelmed by plastics and what to do

Can you go a day without seeing a plastic bag or a plastic container? If you live in the United States, the answer has to be a resounding “No.”

The dramatic increase of plastic bags, containers, bottles, bottle caps and eating utensils in the United States and across the world has caused environmentalists to voice concerns about how these products fill our landfills, end up in our oceans, waste our oil supplies and cause health concerns because of the materials used to create them.

Environmental groups in small and large communities are starting to show a film by Susan Bereza titled “Bag It” that examines the proliferation of plastic bags and raises awareness that there are alternatives to consider when shopping. “Bag It” reveals several sobering statistics, amongst them:

* Polyethylene is most widely used in making plastic, with annual production of about 80 million metric tons, and it is made from oil, or fossil fuels.

* Plastic bags first started showing up in stores in 1977 and now are being consumed at a rate of a million a minute, or 500 billion bags per year worldwide.

* Plastic bags are starting to be outlawed in many parts of the world, as well as the United States, where 30 communities in Alaska have banned their use. The city of Washington, D.C., has imposed a fee for using a plastic bag as a way to deter their use.

* The city of San Francisco has banned use of plastic bags, and is reporting that there have been few complaints.

* Corporations and companies that make plastic products still believe that plastic is a better choice because the alternative is paper bags, which pose a threat to trees that produce the paper pulp. The American Chemistry Council strongly believes that plastic is a safe, recyclable alternative and has created a website.

* Environmentalists feel that paper products can be made from 100 percent recycled paper materials, whereas many plastic products never get recycled and end up in the landfills or in water streams and eventually in the ocean, where they are harmful to marine wildlife.

* Those crusading for less plastic are most concerned about “single-use” plastic products like plastic spoons and forks used for sampling food in stores or in company lunchrooms. Such throwaways take precious fuel to create and are rarely recycled.

* The recycling symbols on plastic items don’t guarantee they will be recycled. Every community in America has different guidelines for what they will and won’t recycle.

* A portion of the northern Pacific Ocean is called the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” because all of the plastic waste converges there, with tons of small plastic pieces swirling under the water. Aquatic life can’t differentiate between a small piece of plastic and a piece of food, thus autopsies on dead birds and fish on an ocean shore often reveal pieces of plastic that the creatures have consumed.

* Researchers estimate that in some parts of the ocean, there is 40 percent more plastic than food, and it kills an estimated 100,000 marine animals a year.

* Health officials are making efforts to get plastic baby bottles or children’s toys off the shelves if the plastic contains Bisphenol-A (BPA) or phthalates, both considered chemicals that are detrimental to health and a potential cause in the rise of autism cases and other childhood illnesses.

Ultimately, the film challenges people to be more aware of plastics in their daily lives and to try to start eliminating the use of those that are not necessary. Don’t take a plastic bag at a store when you can easily carry out the products or use your own carrying sack. Check the packaging of certain products to see if you can get them without a plastic container. Ask your community recycling leaders what is happening with the plastic bags and plastic packaging you put in your recycling bin.

As it is with any green initiative, ways to use recycled plastic bags, even as part of a process in creating countertops or other furniture pieces, continues to improve. Conservationists across the world are hoping to continue this trend, while also seeing the use of plastic bags fade from society.


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