As an organization, part of our mission is to reduce the number of plastic bags being used, while doing some education on the harms of plastic in general. Over the course of our existence, we have learned quite a bit about why everyone should be rethinking their plastic over-consumption. Besides plastic adding to our world's huge waste problem (by 2050 they are expecting there to be more plastic in the oceans than fish), here are 5 more reasons why plastic isn't as great as we think.
1. Most plastic is not biodegradable. Most plastic we use was made to be very durable, and last for a long time. Because of the success of it, it quickly became the "go-to" for making most products. Plastic is a human-made thing, so in nature there are no organisms to break it down. (https://www.livescience.com/33085-petroleum-derived-plastic-non-biodegradable.html) There are some biodegradable plastics being made now, however, there have been debates on whether these plastics are safe or not. Soooo this means:
2. Most plastic that has ever been created is still here. Since plastic is not biodegradable, this means it will never disappear on its own. Over time, all plastics will break down, but they will only be breaking down into smaller and smaller pieces. When plants, animal waste, and flesh breakdown, nature has other uses for these organic materials. There is no such use for plastics in nature, so these tiny little pieces of it, just continue to get smaller.
3. Plastic products often give off chemicals. Even plastic products marked BPA-free were found to to have other chemicals that act similar to BPA. It's widely believed that extreme heat or cold (microwaving, dishwasher, freezing) causes an increase of these chemicals leaching out. While plastics giving off chemicals seems to be pretty common knowledge, what is unknown, is if these chemicals are in fact harmful to us. This is largely due to some scientists and regulators disagreeing on what kind of studies are best for looking at this kind of thing.(https://www.npr.org/2011/03/02/134196209/study-most-plastics-leach-hormone-like-chemicals and http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/02/bpa-safety-war-battle-over-evidence).
4. Animals eat plastic bags and whatever other kinds of plastics are in the environment. Many animals, especially marine life and seabirds, mistake plastic for food because it looks and smells like it. Plastics sitting in the ocean and other waterways, can pick up the smells around them in a matter of months. This combined with the breakdown of plastic, causes it to be easily mistaken for food. Once these animals start eating plastic it is only a matter of time before they stave, with a belly full of it. (https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/11/animals-eat-ocean-plastic-because-of-smell-dms-algae-seabirds-fish/)
5. Even when recycled, not all plastics actually are recycled-and it depends on where you live. Recycling is a much longer and more involved process than most people thing. Some times, something as small as a plastic bottle not being clean enough will make it too difficult to recycle so it gets thrown away. There are only 2, out of 7, different types of plastics that are regularly recycled. Depending on where you live, there may be more that is recycled. The plastics that don't get recycled most often are just thrown out. (https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2015/12/what-actually-happens-to-a-recycled-plastic-bottle/418326/ and http://blogs.ei.columbia.edu/2012/01/31/what-happens-to-all-that-plastic/)
So clearly this is a huge issue. It's something that has been growing since we first started making and using plastic. But what can we do about it? There are many large and small organizations doing whatever it is that they see is their part in education about plastic, and getting it out of the environment-but there is work to be done by everyone!
1. Reduce (or if you're feeling ambitious, totally eliminate) your use of plastic. The best way to fight the harms of plastic personally, is to use less or even use no plastic. This way you will be exposed to fewer chemicals that are in plastic, and you will not be adding much (if any) new plastic into the environment, or recycling system.
2. Refuse plastic bags, other plastic packaging, straws and other plastic things when you are out and about. Since plastic packaging, utensils, straws, and bags tend to get very dirty, it is very difficult to recycle them-if they are even made of the commonly recycled plastics.
3. If you are going to buy plastic, buy it used. Buying used helps to reduce on waste, even if you aren't trying to use less plastic. If you look, you can often find used products that are just as good as a new one.
4. Educate yourself more on the harms of plastic. One of the first steps in trying to make a change about anything is to learn more about the issue. We've included several articles in this post, and have regularly shared even more on our Facebook page! There are so many websites, social media pages, magazines, and more that provide a lot of information about plastic.
5. Ask companies that you support to use less plastic (such as bags, straws, eating utensils, packaging, etc.) When buying online, send a special request for the company to use no plastic, or as little as possible. When getting carry out, see if it's ok to have the food put into your own containers, or even just ask that they don't give you plastic utensils. Call a company's headquarters/corporate to ask them what they are doing about their plastic usage, and to ask them to make a commitment to using less. Call your local and federal representatives to ask them if they are doing anything about plastic usage.
For more information on the harms of plastic/plastic bags check out these sites:
For more ideas on how you can use less plastic check out these sites: