Happy Toxic Tuesday. Instead of harping on the degradation of government controls, I’ll harp on plastics because here, we are all complicit. Even as I shop at our local Co-op scooping nuts into a plastic bag, thinking next time I will bring my own container…I’ve had years of next-times. And it’s easy to convince myself it’s just a little bag. And that I’ll recycle it along with the plastic bags my husband brings home from Food City or Stop and Shop. After all, living here surrounded by organic farms, those little baggies are dwarfed by the miles of “plastic mulch” stretching across farm fields (ironically sort of, there are not yet any approved biodegradable mulches for use on those farms.)
The material is so much a part of our lives, we hardly even notice. Phones, computers, toothbrushes, reusable water bottles. When someone has to ask quora if acrylic and wool are the same, you know there is a problem. My neighbor complains that Blue Apron has too much packaging waste. But the company is “excited to offer” some recycling options, like tossing their packaging into your own recycling bin. And what about those freezer packs? If you are curious check out this Mother Jones article, which estimates that “Blue Apron now sends out 8 million meals a month. If you figure that each box contains about three meals and two six-pound ice packs, that’s a staggering 192,000 tons of freezer-pack waste every year from Blue Apron alone. To put that in perspective, that’s the weight of nearly 100,000 cars or 2 million adult men.”
If you want a more scientific calculation of plastics today, Science magazine has a few articles. The first, published this summer after estimating that we have added some 5800 million metric tons of plastic waste to the planet concludes that “…without a well-designed and tailor-made management strategy for end-of-life plastics, humans are conducting a singular uncontrolled experiment on a global scale, in which billions of metric tons of material will accumulate across all major terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems on the planet.”
Yes, this is all pretty depressing. And if you want to get more depressed just Google plastics in the ocean, which receives an estimated 8 million metric tons a year of our plastics waste. If you are curious about the history of plastics here’s a post I wrote years ago. It begins with my father boiling a pot of plastic tampon applicators he’d collected from Nantasket beach. I’ll leave it there.
So here’s the hopeful part. In her editorial for Science, Dame Ellen McArthur (retired professional sailor and Founder of the Ellen McArthur Foundation for a circular economy) writes about a new age where plastic doesn’t end up in our oceans but becomes a material that corporate policies dictate must be reused, recycled or fully compostable. Yes, we’ve heard about this for years but new technologies are increasingly making this a reality. At some point it will make economic sense even for corporation’s concerned with their bottom line. At the very least, we can hope for this, while we ponder what to do with the broken plastic casings, Styrofoam packing materials and other bits and pieces currently verboten in the recycle bin….oops sorry…forgot this is the hopeful part.
Although recycling and reusing takes some effort there are things we can do. If you want to know about what to do with everything from the inevitable Styrofoam to recycling the old phone (even how to get rid of personal info) check out Earth 911. Getting rid of some of this stuff may not be as onerous than you think. Maybe.
And since this is shopping season, we can also hope that someday there will be more options like this from Patagonia which has been a leader in recycling and reusing. We all know fleece never dies, (although it can certainly melt away as you know if you’ve stood around the campfire) so if it’s from there and not nice enough to pass along to someone in need, send it back. At least maybe then it won’t end up in the belly of some ocean beast.