The massive global use of disposable plastics in one-use packaging continues to be one of the biggest hurdles to achieving greater sustainability of man-made products—especially related to food. A vast array of recycling programs and alternative packaging materials have helped, but we here at Wellness Warrior will never forget the words of activist Daniella Russo at a Green Spa Network conference in 2012:
Plastic is a material that the earth cannot digest. Every bit of plastic ever made is still here with us. Disposable plastics are the greatest contributor to plastic pollution," explains Russo, Co-founder and Executive Director of Plastic Pollution Coalition. "They are a danger to the earth and to humans on it due to the toxic chemicals leaching out of them. The only way to address this problem is by eliminating disposable plastics from our lives."
What can we do as Wellness Warriors, other than give in to despair?
First, assess your knowledge of plastics. Easy, right? Take the quiz. In 5 minutes or less you'll get a snapshot of how the world of consumer plastics has become more complicated—oftentimes caused by some of the very products designed to lessen our use of plastics!
Readers of Wellness Warrior already know how to reduce their use of plastics by buying bulk, making their your own common food products (i.e. yogurt), bringing their own reusable containers to the grocery, and choosing glass over plastic every time they can. It’s not so much about completely eradicating plastic products, but about finding a solution that is so user- and earth-friendly we feel compelled to support it. Recyclable plastics can be melted down and reused for a different purpose. For example, the clothing firm Patagonia is famous for making its "fleece" outdoor wear from recycled soda bottles, achieving industry-leading quality and 100% use of recycled materials.
Have a look inside the world's largest plastic bottle recycling plant in Riverside, CA
VIDEO: via SoCalConnected.org
Finding alternatives to plastic—usually biodegradable or recyclable and/or can be reused multiple times—is the next line of action. The alternatives can have negative consequences as well. What may sound like the answer to our sustainable prayers may just be a temporary bandage.
Recyclable means recyclable, right? Not when you toss it all together.
Anyone who has ever peered at the bottom of a plastic bottle or container seeking its recycling icon and number knows that simply dumping all plastics together is not the answer. Many food packaging items that appear to be solely plastic contain a complex composition of different polymers and other materials such as metals, inks, pigments, adhesives, etc., all of which complicate the separation process.
I am the earth. Let me do the work.
If glass isn’t an option, biodegradable products are plant-based and can be disposed of with little environmental impact—even in your own garden if you have a composting system up and running. Decomposition takes place when soil organisms go to work.
PHOTO: Produce Marketing Association via flickr
However, be aware of how biodegradable products work. Biodegradable packaging is non-recyclable, meaning mixing your recyclables and biodegradables will do more harm to the environment than good. Biodegradable packaging also needs to be disposed of properly. Certain temperatures and other factors need to be met that aren’t normally found in our everyday environment. Specialized facilities cater to these needs, but must be sought out to ensure your biodegradable packages are disposed of correctly.
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Spring is a perfect time to evaluate the way YOUR approach to recycling and plastic consumption is working. It's the price we pay for convenience, and if your grandparents who lived pre-WW II were standing by your side, they would look at you and say, "Stop your kevetching! You've still got it easy, so do it right!"
- Recycled plastics are different and are meant to be separated via Smithsonian Magazine
- Life Without Plastic Online store
- My Plastic Free Life by Beth Terry
- Think Beyond Plastic leading the most innovative efforts to mobilize a large-scale response to plastic pollution
- Certain temperatures and other factors need to be met that aren’t normally found in our everyday environment via World Centric
- Chemicals like Bisphenol-A and Styrene are all found in plastic products via National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
- 4 Big Recycling Myths Tossed Out: No, "blue bins" are not what's causing America's trash problem via Mother Jones