It happened so slowly that no one realized it. When plastic milk jugs replaced glass, when men stopped using razor strops in favor of disposable blades, and when picnic plates, cups and cutlery became disposable, people raved about the convenience of plastics. From that point, pretty near everything people use every day came from plastics. Fifty to sixty years on, however, the price of convenience has been tallied up: human health, environmental damage and future generations? life imperiled. Studies have proven the dire consequences of one-time use items and not recycling?them on life on Earth.
What?s in Plastics Anyway?
While it?s true that plastics begin with organic materials called polymers, it is also true that these elements aren?t particularly malleable. Fillers are then added to the base ingredients to make the whole formable. Somer fillers are natural in origin such as chalk, zinc oxide and cellulose. Flame retardants are also added to plastics along with plasticizers to make the plastic formable.
Some of the ingredients in the plasticizers are phthalates (found in furniture, vinyl flooring and some medical devices among others), bisphenol A (found in polycarbonate bottles as well as the linings of some food cans) in addition to petroleum. Yes, oil, and not used simply to run the manufacturing machinery and trucks to transport one-time items to stores.
So What Does it All Mean?
Let?s examine the effects of plastics on the human body first. From pregnancy to birth, a baby is exposed to the chemicals from plastics in his mother?s IV bottles, the needles the IV fluids move through, the pill bottles the pregnancy vitamins come in plus the jug from which Mom drinks her milk, the bottles she buys for baby and we?re sure you get the idea. Toxic chemicals leach from the plastic containers into our bodies.
These chemicals attack the hormones first, mimicking their functions and then altering them altogether. Some of the chemicals, unable to be processed through the body naturally, remain there because they can?t be passed. Studies have shown that some of these chemicals altered the reproductive systems of baby boys.
Now let?s examine the effects of plastics on the environment. We?ve all seen plastic drink bottles, food wrappers, plastic grocery bags and the occasional diaper tossed onto the side of the road. Paper takes from two to four weeks to decompose in the environment. The odd sock lost out the car window or the shirt Grandma gave you which you hate, so you tossed it out the car window on your way back home take up to 50 years to decompose.
Plastics, on the other hand, take hundreds and up to thousands of years to decompose. That?s hundreds up to thousands of years of leaching chemicals into the ground water. Millennia in which small particles are ingested by wildlife and fishes. Thousands of years in which bacteria and destructive mechanisms in nature get blown across the globe to infect someone somewhere.
Every living thing needs water to live. People eat grains grown in irrigated fields somewhere in the world. People eat animals who drink water polluted by plastics. People breathe it in every day in the form of air pollution, dust and particulates found in just about everything.
Now think of future generations. With altered hormonal systems, chemicals leaching into their bodies from gestation and then using and ingesting contaminated food and water (plastic plumbing pipes), future generations won?t resemble anything close to our grandparents, who left us a world still organic.
Some Numbers for Your Consideration
Not every plastic device has been documented, but water bottles have. The Americans do a lot of studies, and they’ve found that for a people occupying only four percent of the world?s population, they?consume 60 percent of its plastic water bottles. Almost 2,000 bottles of water are consumed per second in America. Per second. Only 20 percent of those plastic water bottles get tossed into the recycle bin. That leaves 80 percent or 38 billion plastic bottles going into landfills. Billion. Plastic water bottles that leach their petrochemicals into the ground water and poison our flora and fauna. For millennia. Over half the world?s population has no clean drinking water. It is reaching epic proportions right now, today. But American water bottles float across the planet on the waves of pollution to poison Australians.
Australians aren’t guiltless, however, Between 2006 and 2007, Australians generated over 5.5 million tonnes of paper (only half of it was recycled), 376,000 tonnes of plastics (288,000 tonnes of which was recycled), and in 2010 only 30 percent of steel cans and 67 percent of aluminum cans was recycled. While it’s true some Australians might not live where kerbside recycling services are available, drop-off facilities are available to those who wish to begin recycling. As you can see from the numbers, every bit helps.
Wow. What?s the Answer?
The answer begins with raising awareness. When just one person recycles anything plastic, someone will see him do it and do it themselves. Chain reactions happen every day, but most of us never see how our actions carry forward. Using as much glass or ceramic containers, pots and pans and utensils as possible would help. Shoving petroleum and its products out to the kerb would help immeasurably. If you want clean drinking water, boil it and then filter it into glass containers. Love coffee? Buy an old tin coffee maker placed on an eye of the stove. Trash the toothbrush and use your fingers. They do the same job. Examine your life with an eye toward replacing whatever plastics are available with something more natural. Perhaps then we could live with the impact on our environment. We’ll help when you contact us to learn how.