Why you need to stop using disposable plastic-how the ocean garbage patches will grow

I’ve posted before about the plastic garbage patches in the ocean. I’ve talked about how Beth from My Plastic-free Life (formerly Fake Plastic Fish) is my hero – she lives a life free from most disposable plastic . And I’ve rallied against polyethylene plastic beads in body scrubs.

If none of that has persuaded you to eliminate at least some disposable plastic, then watch this.

Maximenko’s Plastic Pollution Growth Model from 5 Gyres on Vimeo.

Beth at FakePlasticFish Asks Oprah to go Plastic Free

plastic bottlesHow much disposable plastic do you throw away every day?

How many water bottles or drink containers? How many plastic bags? How many straws, caps, containers?

Do you shop green with your reusable totes but still use plastic bags for your produce? Do you buy single servings instead of bulk? Do you buy recycled content toilet paper in a plastic wrapping?

If you are doing what you can with obvious disposable plastic, do you know that some body scrubs, toothpastes and other beauty products contain small plastic polyethylene beads that are designed to be flushed to the environment?

Do you ever stop to think about all the plastic you consume and discard each day, each month, each year? And then multiply that by the number of people in the US? And then by the rest of the world? That’s a lot of plastic. A heck of a lot. Especially since it doesn’t degrade in any comprehensible time frame.  In fact, every piece of plastic made in the last fifty or so years, except for the less than 1/2 percent that has been incinerated, is still around somewhere in our environment.

That’s right. Every single piece. And a whole bunch of it is clogging our oceans in giant plastic patches.

I’m sure you recycle. But recycling plastic is just downcycling – the plastic is still around, just put to another use, but just for the life of that product. It then usually can’t be recycled again. So a plastic bottle becomes a purse, and then the purse goes to the landfill. 

Beth at FakePlasticFish is one of my favorite people. She has documented her journey to a plastic-free lifestyle at her blog, and continues to fight for reducing our use of disposable plastic. She spearheaded the succesful campaign to get Brita to recycle its filters. She is my no plastic Superhero. I always ask myself “What would Beth do” when I’m stuck.

So, when Oprah did her Earth Day episode, I was thrilled. Oprah had Fabien Cousteau as a guest, among others, to talk about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (the largest landfill in the world), I thought of Beth. When Oprah had her epiphany about plastics, I thought of Beth.

So what did Beth do? She prepared a video letter to Oprah, explaining her journey, and asking Oprah to use her voice, her clout, to urge others to get rid of plastic. Her heartfelt, sincere story about her journey is well worth a watch. And, just perhaps, if enough of us talk about it, Oprah will hear, and, well, that could lead to amazing things for this Earth of ours:




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Plastic, Plastic Everywhere: What Would Beth Do?

green moms carnival logoThe second Green Moms Carnival this month is about plastic.  It is hosted by Beth at My Plastic-free Life (formerly FakePlasticFish who is my no-plastic Superhero).  You really should go check out her blog – she describes her inspirational journey to a lifestyle free of disposable plastic.  And she is a woman who truly practices what she preaches – but never in a holier than though manner.  Instead she is quietly galvanizing force.  Sharing some meals last year at the BlogHer08 convention brought home to me just how much disposable plastic we use every day.

Since then, I found out about the absolutely frightening amount of plastic in the Pacific Ocean.  I also found out about polyethylene plastic beads being in hundreds of beauty and personal care products and am sterering clear of those products. 

And since then, really, since Beth, I’ve made efforts to get rid of disposable plastic.  We already used re-usable shopping bags and totes for shopping, but I made an effort to use all the time, from the grocery store to Target to Macys.  I also got some awesome re-usable produce and organic re-usable bags for buying bulk from Plum Creek Mercantile (I love them!).  I use stainless steel straws purchased through Amazon, carry my own stainless steel cutlery for lunches at work (no disposable plastic forks), and thumb my nose at my son’s school by refusing to use a plastic bag for his towel each week. (we use a re-usable nylon tote).  I shocked my daughter’s friends’ parents at her birthday party by using my good china for birthday cake instead of disposable plastic.   

Right now, I’m focusing on disposable plastic – plastic bags, plastic packaging, plastic packing tape, etc. – the things that you don’t re-use.  So, for example, I don’t buy single serve items, but buy in bulk, and then use small containers to make the items portable.  Like apple sauce (if I don’t have time to make my own) in a large glass container spooned into reusable containers for lunches.  I always ask myself – what would Beth do? 

But it still feels like it isn’t enough. I look around our house and just see so much plastic.  I try to skip it all the time, but it is virtually impossible to get completely away from plastic.  And, to be frank, I am glad to have my plastic car seats for my children.  I recognize that plastic has made our lives easier and more safe in a lot of ways.  But it is not without its problems.  
ocean trashWhy is plastic such a problem?  It is made with petroleum – a non-renewable resource.  It doesn’t degrade or break down in any relevant time frame so it fills our landfills and chokes our oceans. Just imagine – every piece of plastic made in the last 50 years or so, except for the 1/2 percent or so that has been incinerated, is still around in our environment. 

How much plastic do you think will exist in the next 50 years? 

And recycling helps, but it doesn’t make the plastic disappear.  The recycled items are just made into other plastic items, which may not be recyclable.  Most plastic is not particular eco-friendly in its manufacture either – particularly polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic.  Plastic items may also be exposing us to potentially harmful chemicals – think of hormone-disrupting bispenol A in polycarbonate plastic or the neurotoxin lead in polyvinyl chloride. 

We really need to do more.  I saw a Disney Thumbelina doll at Target yesterday and was heartened to see the post-consumer recycled content packaging replacing the typical plastic packaging.  But it did NOT change the fact that the doll was still just a plastic doll.  

And I seem to be a bit cranky about it lately.  Two nights ago at the grocery store (granted, it was around 10 pm), the man behind me in the check out line asked me how I remembered to bring my re-usable bags.  And I snapped at him – “Well, I just think about what will happen if I don’t bring them – when my kids grow up the world will be crap.”  Not the most diplomatic response. 

I’ve also snapped at my husband, who often doesn’t think about it and buys single serve apple sauce or similar items. 
So I guess this is a preachy post because I’m going to urge you to do something about plastic.  I really think we have to do more – to conserve our resources, to protect our oceans, to preserve our Earth.  Let’s all try to: 

  • Use re-usable bags and totes for shopping, whether at the grocery store or a department store.  No more plastic bags.  If you think a single plastic bag is no big deal, consider that Americans throw away some 100 billion polyethylene plastic bags every year.
  •  Use re-usable bags for your produce too.
  •  Skip the bags at the dry cleaner.  If you need a bag, then you can buy a fabric bag to use.
  •  Try a stainless steel or glass straw (both available on Amazon) instead of the disposable plastic ones.  My kids absolutely love our stainless straws.  They are super easy to clean.
  • Carry your own cutlery.  Virtually all take-out restaurants are glad to forego giving you disposable forks and knives.
  • Use a re-usable stainless steel bottle for your water or coffee or whatever you drink.
  • Bring your own containers for take out.  Most of the places I lunch out frequently are more than willing to use my containers from home for my lunch when I eat out.
  • Look for items with less packaging.  Buy concentrated. Buy in bulk. 

Any if you aren’t sure, just ask, What Would Beth Do?