June 8, 2009

Confessions of a Plastiholic

     The only way to avoid plastic abuse in this country is to be a hermit like the Unabomber or never buy anything at any store.
     I used to use plastic picnic cups, forks and spoons as unthinkingly as anyone, but by the time plastic plates showed up, I had started to resist using them. And they're the standard for almost every potluck or party you go to. So I made a solemn vow that I wasn't going to use any plastic stuff to eat with. I put together a mess kit with stainless steel utensils and a reusable plastic container from the thrift store - it works great because when I'm done eating I just put the lid on and no mess.
     But then I realized that I'm still using lots of other plastic. Some of it I can re-use, but a lot of it gets trashed. You just can't help yourself when your whole country is abusing plastic.
     Making throwaway items of plastic when it is 99.44%  impossible to truly recycle is abuse. About 2/3 of all plastic packaging is made from natural gas, and 1/4 from oil. If we are going to just throw that gas and oil away, we might as well use it to keep someone warm in the winter instead. Next time you whip out another garbage bag, even if it's the grocery bag, think about it.
     A lot of people have heard about the plastic in the ocean that's killing more than a million sea animals every year.  If there are truly 46,000 pieces of plastic trash per square mile of ocean, as the U.N. says, it's a wonder there aren't more dead bodies. Your old Barbie doll could be a killer.
     The plastic bag industry claims that plastic packaging saves energy because it's lighter than glass, wood, and other things that actually are recyclable. But they don't mention that a lot of plastic containers are used for beverage products, which are extremely heavy. Drinking soda pop in plastic bottles rather than glass ones isn't really going to save any energy - for that you need to drink tap water.
     There are actually some cool ways to re-use plastic, even though it just postpones the inevitable trash.
     The easiest way to truly recycle it would probably be to burn it, the way utilities burn natural gas and coal. And even though plastic probably has fewer contaminants like chlorine and sulfur than oil and coal, burning plastic trash will probably produce a minute amount of dioxins and some other things that could smell like the tailpipe of a car that's burning oil.
     I think I'd rather take my chances with plastic combustion than with nuclear, or mountain-top rape - like the permits for coal strip mining that Obama recently approved.

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