Breaking Down the Truth About Plastic

Day 286 – Charlie Rolsky is a plastic pollution researcher, finishing up his PhD at Arizona State University, and he serves as the Director of Science for Plastic Oceans. Charlie and Plastic Oceans International has created a video series to help educate us all on the plastic pollution problem.

The videos are short and to the point. They cover topics like:

  1. The Rs (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle)
  2. Burning Plastic: The Pros and Cons
  3. Plastic in Our Food…and Bodies
  4. Recycling
  5. Biodegradable Plastics: Working with What We’ve Got

Plastic Oceans International offers many resources to help you better understand the plastic pollution crisis.

The first step in fighting this war on plastic is to educate ourselves on the root of the problem. If we can not see that we all need to change our relationship with plastic, we will never be part of the solution.

Tomorrow, recycling water in office buildings.

Plastic Free Doesn’t Have to Only Last a Month

Day 212 – July has come to an end and so has Plastic Free July. However, it doesn’t mean you have to stop making an effort to remove plastic from your everyday use. All month, I wrote about ways we can replace single-use plastic with reusable options. I wrote about companies using recycled plastic in their products to help minimize the plastic entering our landfills, oceans and waterways. Hopefully, it inspired you to make some changes and to encourage others to do the same.

Plastic Oceans has created a list of 9 things we can do to help end plastic pollution.

Continue to find ways to eliminate single-use plastic from your life. The fight for the health of our planet is far from over. Stay informed and consider receiving updates and newsletters from Plastic Ocean.

Tomorrow, summer’s not over yet, sustainable flip flops.

The Trillion Pieces of Plastic Challenge

Day 189 – On Day 71, I wrote about switching to a reusable razor. I purchased an Albatross razor. It started off great, but due to my accident prone ways, I needed to discontinue use. I still know people that love their reusable razors. Unfortunately, I’m not skilled enough to use one without injury.

Now, with all that said, I wanted to share a great campaign created by Albatross.

“There are an estimated 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic floating in the ocean. The Plastic Disclosure Project, a project run by Hong Kong-based advocacy group Ocean Recovery Alliance, estimates that 33 percent of plastic manufactured worldwide is used once, then discarded. Making matters worse, 85 percent of the world’s plastic is not recycled when discarded. Such a dire set of human behaviors means that, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, there could be more plastic than fish in the oceans by 2050. In fact, plastic consumption is actually still increasing! Did you know, for example, 1 million water bottles are thrown out every minute?  Every minute!

Albatross Designs has introduced the Trillion Pieces of Plastic Campaign. There are currently 7.2 Billion people in the world.  If just 13.8% of these people committed to, in their lifetime, picking up from the ground 1,000 pieces of plastic litter and disposing of it properly, then we’d have effectively prevented one TRILLION! pieces of plastic from entering the ocean.  Yes, that same water bottle cap you see on the sidewalk will likely be washed into streams or rivers and then into the ocean.  Once in the ocean the task of plastic clean up becomes infinitely more difficult, if possible at all. Our goal in this campaign is defensive.  Let’s, together, discover a new meaning of personal responsibility and stop the plastic before it reaches the ocean.

Trillion Pieces of Plastic encourages citizens to commit to picking up 1,000 pieces of plastic litter in their lifetime.  But, if one were to pick up a piece of litter a day, they’d meet this goal in under 3 years. Some beaches are so littered with plastic that a motivated individual could easily pick up a 1,000 pieces of plastic in a single day.”Albatross Designs

So, whether we decide to spread this challenge over your lifetime or spend 589 consecutive days picking up litter, like Edgar McGregor did in LA County’s most popular hiking spots, we all have a role to play in keeping plastic out of our waterways.

Though, picking up plastic is important, we also need to reduce our use of single-use plastic. Until that happens, we will have countless pieces of plastic to pick up.

Tomorrow, rugs made from upcycled waste materials.

Say No to the Plastic Bag

Day 184It’s International Plastic Bag Free Day! If you haven’t already started, today is the day, to say no to the plastic bag.

Every minute, people around the world use a million plastic bags, most of which are thrown away after approximately 25 minutes of use. Depending on the type of plastic, it takes between 100 and 500 years for a plastic bag to degrade. During this time, microplastic particles get into the food chain and pollute drinking water, leading to poisoning and other health problems.

If the world does not stop production of plastic bags, in 30 years time the weight of plastic bags thrown in the oceans will exceed that of all the creatures living them.

Here are just a few of the dangers of plastic bags that the organizers of Plastic Bag Free Day highlight:

  • They take at least 100 years to disintegrate and cause both direct and indirect harm to the environment and living organisms.
  • Despite their low production cost, they end up being too expensive for humanity, given that they take so long to decompose and are very hard to clean from the environment.
  • They contradict the principles of conscious consumption and respect for the environment.
  • Thoughtless use of plastic bags by our generation will negatively affect the quality of life of future generations who will have to live on the planet that we’ve polluted.
  • Microplastics get into the food chain, accumulating in living organisms and causing health problems.
  • The main raw material for plastic bags is crude oil, which is an exhaustible resource.

The environmental situation on our planet depends on the efforts of all people who inhabit it, and giving up single-use plastic bags can be your personal contribution to reducing pollution and protecting the environment. It may seem insignificant to you, but in this case, any effort matters because it does help to make this world a better place for us and future generations.

There are a lot of good ways to celebrate, and the easiest requires a simple resolution on your part. The simplest thing you can do is choose paper or cloth over plastic, or even better bring your own bags to retailers to pick up goods. If you own a business yourself, initiate a program to encourage your customers to bring in their own reusable bags, and stop offering plastic bags.

Tomorrow, eco packaging is becoming more popular and you need to be on the lookout.

Tips to a PVC Free Summer

Day 179 – What is PVC?

PVC stands for polyvinyl chloride. PVC is everywhere around us because it is such a versatile material. It is used in toys, bottles, packaging, bedding, construction materials, wire coatings, clothing, piping, and furnishings, just to name a few. PVC is the third most popular type of plastic. This year, PVC production is expected to reach 51 million metric tons, worldwide.

Should we be concerned about PVC?

“PVC is dangerous to human health and the environment throughout its entire life cycle, at the factory, in our homes, and in the trash. Our bodies can be contaminated with the chemicals released during the PVC lifecycle, such as mercury, dioxins, and phthalates, which may pose irreversible life-long health threats. When produced or burned, PVC plastic releases dioxins, a group of the most potent synthetic chemicals ever tested, which can cause cancer and harm the immune and reproductive systems.” – Children’s Environmental Health Network

Ever notice that smell after opening a new shower curtain or opening up a new inflatable pool or that new car smell?

That smell occurs as a result of off gassing. Off gassing is when volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are released into the air that you breathe. Volatile organic compounds can be all kinds of chemicals. There are thousands of chemicals allowed to be used in materials intended for use in your home, workplace or vehicles every day. In fact, around 80,000 new chemicals have been invented since World War II. Some off gassing VOCs are thought to be carcinogenic, which means they cause cancer. Other VOCs can be harmful when mixed with other chemicals. PVC plastic undergoes off gassing.

Sadly, PVC is found in many of the items we use throughout the summer. Thankfully, many manufacturers are beginning to move away from the use of this plastic.

Here are some suggestions to avoid PVC this summer.

Swimming Pools – The Safe Parent created a list of Non-Toxic and Hard Plastic Kiddie Pools. The pools listed are all PVC free.

Life Vests – Many summer activities may include the use of a life vest. Unfortunately, many are made with PVC. There are PVC free options, but you’ll have to look for them. Make sure the foam insert is made from PE foam, EVA form or Gaia foam. Brands like NRS, Stohlquist and Astral offer PVC free vests, just to name a few.

Pool Floaties – It is next to impossible to find a pool floatie not made with PVC. I could not find any in my search, but that’s not to say they do not exist. The best advice I could give is to avoid the pool floatie if you can. If not, at least give it a few days outside to off gas. Pool floaties are also not recyclable. So, that beachball, water wings and giant donut inner tube will end up in a landfill after they have popped.

Pool toys – Many children toys are made from PVC plastic. Green Toys are PVC free and have a fun line of water toys. Which would be great for the pool!

I can honestly say that I did not avoid PVC plastic when my kids were younger. I didn’t know I had to. Hopefully, this information will help make your future purchases easier, knowing to avoid polyvinyl chloride.

Tomorrow, tips on having an environmentally friendly block party.

Costa Rica Plans to Eliminate Single Use Plastics. Why can’t the U.S.?

Day 148 – Costa Rica hopes to be the first country to eliminate single use plastics. In 2020, President Carlos Alvarado Quesada announced the ambitious plan at his inauguration. He wants to achieve this goal this year, 2021. It does seem like an impossible achievement, but Costa Rica has proven time and time again that they are committed to finding ways to protect and preserve their country. Costa Rica has been an example to the world by reversing deforestation and doubling its forest cover from 26% in 1984 to more than 52% in 2020. They also get almost 99% of their energy from renewable sources. The country uses resources like rivers, volcanos, geothermal, solar, and wind power to make energy.

The plan to eliminate single use plastics consists of 5 strategic axes:

  1. Municipal incentives
  2. Policies and institutional guidelines for suppliers
  3. Replacement of single-use plastic products
  4. Research and development
  5. Investment in strategic initiatives

In June of last year, the country officially launched its national strategy to replace the consumption of single use plastics for renewable and water-soluble alternatives. All single-use items must be recyclable or biodegradable. Petroleum based single-use items will not be allowed in Costa Rica.

So, why wouldn’t this work in the U.S.?

In an article published by NPR on May 18, 2021, a report by Australia’s Minderoo Foundation is discussed. The report offers one of the fullest accountings, to date, of the companies behind the production of single-use plastics. The study identifies 20 companies as the source of 55% of the world’s single-use plastic waste, while the top 100 companies account for more than 90%.

“At the top of what the foundation calls its “Plastic Waste Makers Index” is the energy giant Exxon Mobil, followed by the Dow Chemical Co. and China’s Sinopec. The report found that Exxon Mobil was responsible for 5.9 million metric tons of such waste in 2019, while Dow and Sinopec contributed 5.6 million and 5.3 million, respectively. Taken together, the three companies account for 16% of all waste from single-use plastics such as bottles, bags and food packaging, according to the report.”NPR

Big business and big money is preventing the U.S. from making any headway in the fight to eliminate single use plastics.

“The report also traced the money invested in the production of single-use plastics, finding that 20 institutional asset managers hold shares worth close to $300 billion in the parent companies that make up the foundation’s rankings. The top three investors are U.S.-based Vanguard Group, BlackRock and Capital Group, which according to the report have an estimated $6 billion invested in the production of single-use plastics.” – NPR

Until, the U.S. can get everyone on board (government, industry, and consumers), we will never be able to accomplish what Costa Rica plans to do and will most likely be successful in doing, saying goodbye to single-use plastics forever.

Tomorrow, celebrating National Learn About Composting Day.

Does Infinitely Recyclable Plastic Exist?

Day 138 – Wouldn’t it be amazing if companies were responsible for the products they manufactured? We’re not just talking about in the beginning, at the moment of purchase, but at the end, as well. The consumer needs help to figure out how to responsibly dispose of their “stuff” and manufactures are nowhere to be found. Unfortunately, more times than not, the consumer is left to navigate the confusing world of recycling and for those that don’t have the time and patience, the landfill seems to be the only option.

It is cheaper for manufacturers to use virgin resin (new plastic) then it is to use recycled plastic. Add the fact that in many countries there are no rules or regulations in place to steer companies away from single use plastics. Combine that with zero infrastructure to deal with the absurd amount of plastics flooding waste management facilities and you have a recipe for disaster.

Thankfully, science is coming to the rescue.

“A multidisciplinary team from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) has created a plastic that can be disassembled at a molecular level using an acidic solution. Then, it can be reassembled with a new color, texture, and shape, again and again. Unlike traditional plastic, which can only be recycled two or three times at most, this material, called poly(diketoenamine), or PDK, is infinitely recyclable.” – Earth911

Even though the initial creation of PDK is expensive to manufacture, it is significantly less expensive to recycle this type of plastic compared to the very popular, PET and HDPE plastics. Recycled PDK will even be less expensive than virgin plastic, making it very appealing to manufactures.

While it’s helpful to have plastics that are infinitely recyclable, we also need to hold companies accountable for the products they produce. The responsibility can longer be placed solely on the consumer. We need to start supporting companies with take back programs and trade in options. By supporting these companies we are making it very clear that we are tired for carrying the burden and need other companies to step up and create a plan to help the planet.

Tomorrow, products on Amazon that are environmentally friendly.

Saying No is the New Yes

Day 83 – Did you know that by saying no, you are saying yes to the environment? It may sound confusing, but it’s rather quite simple.

When you say no to the plastic utensils added to your take out order, because you know you have utensils at home, or you have packed your own reusable flatware, you are saying yes to the environment.

When you say no to the extra condiments served in those tiny plastic cups, because you know you have plenty of ketchup and mayo at home, you are saying yes to the environment.

When you say no to the complimentary toothbrush and tiny tube of toothpaste at your bi-yearly visit to the dentist, because you have switched to a bamboo toothbrush (a topic for another post) and have a large recyclable tube of toothpaste at home, you are saying yes to the environment.

When you say no to the plastic grocery bag, even when you forget your reusable bags at home, you are saying yes to the environment.

When you say no to the plastic piggy bank that came with the opening of your child’s new savings account, because you know it will be broken in a matter of days, if not hours, and end up in the trash, you are saying yes to the environment.

When you say no to all those things that you know you really don’t need, especially the plastic stuff, you are saying yes to the environment.

It’s not difficult to do and no one will think less of you. It’s up to you to remember and follow through. Just say NO! You can even throw in a no thank you, if it makes you feel better.

Tomorrow, we all need heroes.

National Geographic: 133 years old and still going strong

Day 27 – On January 27, 1888, National Geographic was founded in Washington D.C. Its purpose was for “the increase and diffusion of geographical knowledge.”

As a kid, I had a subscription to National Geographic. Sadly, I was not a big reader and spent most of my time looking at all the beautiful pictures. I dreamed of working for National Geographic one day. I figured I would probably have to be a photographer, because I was not the best writer.

Fast forward 35 years, I’m still dreaming of being a National Geographic photographer and I’m still enjoying the National Geographic magazine. The only difference, I’m reading a few more articles now. And it’s those articles that have given me a glimpse into the vast world around me. Giving me a window into places and people, I may never have a chance to see for myself.

National Geographic has also been a wonderful resource in my journey to a more sustainable lifestyle. They have covered every topic imaginable when it comes to having a more environment friendly way of living.

Here are a few of my favorite articles:

  1. You Can Help Turn the Tide on Plastic. Here’s How
  2. How People Make Only a Jar of Trash a Year
  3. Closing the circle on waste
  4. The business of nature
  5. Do You Know How to “Go Green”?

So, on this National Geographic Day, I encourage you to spend a little time reading one (or many) of their great articles and be sure to check out the amazing pictures.

Tomorrow, a clock that everyone should keep an eye on.

Bubble Wrap: Friend or foe

Day 25 – Happy Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day! In 1956, Marc Chavannes and Alfred Fielding put two shower curtains together and created air bubbles between the two curtains. They thought they were on to something and decided to move forward with the idea. Their creation went on to be wall paper!

Well, the wall paper was not a big hit and eventually the product evolved into what we know today as Bubble Wrap. For 60 years this squishy, air filled plastic has been protecting our most fragile possessions. Not to mention, its has been delighting children and adults alike. Whether, you take a more meticulous method by popping each individual bubble or create an explosive sound by stomping on it with your feet, there is no denying that Bubble Wrap is entertaining.

Nowadays, the Bubble Wrap is not as popular and has been replaced with air pillows and brown paper. However, if you find yourself in possession of this creatively engineered piece of plastic, be sure to use it wisely. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Recycle the Bubble Wrap with your plastic bags, of course, after you have enjoyed every single bubble.
  2. Hold on to the Bubble Wrap for the next time you need to ship or store something delicate.
  3. Share your Bubble Wrap. There are plenty of people moving and in need of protective coverings.

Whatever you decide to do with your Bubble Wrap just don’t throw it away!

Tomorrow, a paper product that we take for granted, but could not imagine our life without it.