Plastic: the good, the bad and the ugly
Mike SanClements, an ecologist at the University of Colorado, just concluded a two-week attempt to minimize the plastics in his life, which he blogged about for Grist.org. I've blogged about "let's live without plastics" efforts before, and some of SanClements' observations are pretty typical. So let's focus on what he does differently. He started the series by observing that plastic is "both amazing and horrible. Think about all the great things made from plastic -- the computer I'm typing on, our phones, medical and scientific equipment. I don't think wooden cell phones would work so well. "At the same time, we use far too much plastic and the environmental and health effects are terrible. Plastic is made from fossil fuels so it's energy-intensive to produce. It doesn't go away when you put it in the trash and when you recycle it, it doesn't get used over and over and over again like aluminum." SanClements had an entertaining post about trying to minimize plastics that he encounters because he has a dog, Hank. SanClements eventually purchases some biodegradable plastic bags (made from cornstarch) to clean up after Hank. It's interesting how the term "plastic" is being applied only to materials that are made from natural gas or oil and take a long time to degrade. Is that intentional -- are suppliers of resins made from renewable materials and/or degrade more quickly intentionally avoiding the term "plastic"? I don't think so. But that's how SanClements uses the terms, and I think that's a pretty typical attitude these days. Also interesting -- check out the comments from his readers about how they tackle the dog waste issue without using plastic bags. SanClements concluded his series yesterday, noting that "it would be nearly impossible to avoid plastic entirely unless maybe you were homesteading in Alaska. Even then, I think you'd be hard pressed." He then divides plastics into three categories -- the good, the bad, and the ugly. "The good is your phone, camera, computer, medical equipment, ski bindings, etc. These things last a long time and using plastic makes possible, or greatly improves, their performance. Backpacking with a canvas tent? I'm cool with nylon, thanks. "The bad is stuff like plastic food storage containers. It gets reused over and over but while you are using it, who knows whether or not it's leaching nasty chemicals into your food? It's nice to know that in some instances, like water bottles, BPA-free plastics are now available for purchase. "The ugly is what I call lazy plastic -- single-use plastic that's easily avoidable with almost no effort required to find a substitute. Plastic grocery bags are the king of ugly plastic. There is never a need to get a plastic grocery bag at the store. They should be banned. You can bring your bags and you can also bring your own bags for produce."
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