Thursday night, June 2, 2011, I participated in a Twitter forum on plastics. I was invited to join by Beth Terry of My Plastic Free Life. Thanks, Beth, for the invite!
It was interesting. Lots of people tweeting at once, so it wasn't so much a conversation as a bunch of individual comments with a few responses - but it gave me a good idea of where people's concerns generally lie. And they tend not to be as broad-focused as mine (don't get me wrong, there's lots of people out there who are concerned about the effects of plastics on the environment, but not all of them - and I was surprised by some of the comments).
It turns out that a lot of the plastic-oponents out there are more concerned about what the chemicals in plastics are doing to their own bodies, as opposed to the planet. And I get that. No doubt that the chemicals in plastics are bad for our bodies. But I see the human body as being a small symptom of what is the real problem. After all, if the plastics are in our environment (even if you aren't eating out of them directly) they are in our bodies. If plastics cause cancer in our bodies, what are they doing to our ecosystem? We can look at the ocean garbage patches, the plastic bags in our waterways, the Tim Hortons lid in the sewer, the albatrosses feeding their babies plastics, all as a growing cancer on our planet.
One of the most ridiculous comments I read during the forum, thought, was a woman who HAD to use plastic bags to protect her lettuce from the unsanitary cart at the grocery store. PULEESE .... the lettuce grew in the dirt, it has bugs in it, an unknown number of unsanitary hands have touched it. The lettuce is probably more unsanitary than the cart. And aren't you going to be washing it when you get home anyway??
We are part of our environment. The more you separate yourself from the environment, the less your body can deal with it. In other words, the more "sanitary" you make your life, the less able your body will be to fight off germs and bacteria. Granted, you want to avoid the really bad ones, but a little exposure to daily dirt and grime and "unsanitary" conditions goes a long way in helping build your immune system.
So wash your lettuce! But for God's sake don't fool yourself into thinking that your lettuce is sanitary because you put it in a plastic bag!!
The other comment that pissed me off was that plastics made less of a carbon footprint than glass. Now, I find that pretty hard to believe. Perhaps glass recycling makes more of a carbon footprint (because plastic isn't recycled as much), but if you looked at the life-cycle of glass, I don't see how it could possibly have more of a footprint than plastic. However, let's presume that it does ...
Even if plastics took FAR less energy to produce and recycle, most plastics can't truly be recycled, but only down-cycled. Which means they can be turned into a differet type of plastic once or maybe twice and that's the end of the life-cycle at which point it goes into the environment and stays there as large or small bits of toxic plastic. FOREVER. Glass, however, can be re-filled, re-used, recycled, and eventually, when we are no longer using it will turn back into sand. It comes from nature, goes back to nature and doesn't leach nasty chemicals into our bodies.
So who gives a rat's ass about plastics' carbon footprint? (Our main goal needs to be using less, anyhow, which will reduce carbon footprint better than simply switching materials). In the end, plastics just end up being pollution that will get eaten by the bottom rung of the foodchain and will eventually end up in our bodies anyhow (see how dealing with the bigger picture could help those who are concerned about the health effects of plastics?). So let's just cut them out at the beginning of the life cycle instead of trying to deal with them at the end of it.
Best place to start (of course) is with single-use plastics. Utensils, coffee and pop lids, straws, plates, cups, styrofoam of any sort. Just stop using them. It is nonsensical to use an immortal substance to make items that are used once. It just isn't right.
The great thing about the forum: people are talking about plastics and how we should stop using them. For WHATEVER reason. The simple fact that it was taking place gives me hope. Let's keep it up. Whether you stop using plastics because of cancer fears or because you are concerned about its effect on the environment matters not to me. As long as we are having the discussion and people are using less. That's a great first step.