Thursday, June 03, 2010

Beauty and the Beast

Wicked beauty

What is it? It's the interior of a freshly changed "tall kitchen" trash bag, so tidy. Beautiful, even.

Um, maybe more like a beast.

Fossil fuel energy is used to make plastic like that bag. In addition, plastic itself is made of petroleum. At every stage of production and use, plastic releases toxic by-products. News stories are revealing more and more frequently the frightening health effects from those chemicals, chemicals now found in our bodies.

Not only that, the plastic from this bag will still be around in the year 2510, or maybe 3010. No one knows exactly how long because, well, it takes so long to biodegrade.

Burning plastic to be rid of it, isn't a good option either. My son-in-law is a fireman and could tell you about the noxious plumes from a home filled with a standard amount of plastic when it burns.

Come on, this is just a bag and I'm only using one a week. That's 52 bags a year for me, one person. And 52 bags per person in the U.S. would be 16,089,372,000 bags a year. Sixteen billion bags just to throw away stuff. And since it doesn't biodegrade, what about the plastic from last year? Or 1990? Or 1950?

Every bit of plastic ever produced still exists today.

What can a person -- transitioning or not -- do to move away from petroleum-based plastic?

I could keep reducing my garbage, ultimately using fewer and fewer of these bags. There is no warning on the box, so one bag can't be all that bad. Wait, there is this one label on the box, in small print: "Not recommended for food storage." Why? Because it would leach bad stuff out into your food. Not good for food, not good for the ground, not good for you.

I could buy the oxobiodegradable plastic bag. Or I could buy biodegradable bags made of tapioca. In any case, I looked for them in my local grocery store, 2 miles from home, but they carry neither. It doesn't makes sense to me to drive across town for them, nor to indirectly burn gasoline by having them shipped to my doorstep from Amazon either.

Even if I could find some locally, a bit of googling revealed that the tapioca just entices micro-organisms to eat that part of the bag, then seeds the environment with polyethylene fragments. And the oxobiodegradable has additives that make them breakdown, releasing carbon dioxide and methane far more quickly, contributing to greenhouse gasses. Besides, I don't trust the corporate guys to tell all they know. Or even to know all they should know.

In desperation, I could at least re-use the ubiquitous plastic shopping bags that I bring purchases home in. Then I wouldn't be encouraging more plastic to be made. Since I'm currently sewing cloth shopping bags, my days of having a plethora of plastic bags are numbered, though.

I then looked in my garbage for the solution.

Monitoring my trash these last weeks, I noticed something. I throw away plastic bags. There's the plastic bag popcorn comes in, the big plastic bag toilet paper comes in, the plastic-coated bag dog food comes in. There's a bunch of them each week and not made of the kind of plastic taken by my recycle center. How ironic is it that plastic bags fill up my trash. Why throw them away in yet another bag?

Yep, I like this idea and I've begun saving my "trash" as trash bags. It will work both toward my goal of reducing my contribution to the landfill and reducing fuel consumption. Well, at least for as long as the stuff we buy is mostly, sometimes only, available packaged in plastic.

It's not a solution against the many health dangers of plastic. It's not as tidy as the bag above. It certainly won't be beautiful. But you know what I'm thinking? Those 16 billion white, tall bags bulging with garbage couldn't possibly be tidy or beautiful either.

® declaration of dangerous chemicals not used in their production. What is their stuff made of? It's not answered. Probably for a reason.
CNN's article "5 toxics that are everywhere: Protect yourself."
CNN's video "One woman's mission to be plastic-free."
The animated Internet sensation, "The Story of Stuff."


John M. Mora said...

great post...i so dislike plastic stuff and it is short term cheap and

jomamma said...

Excellent post. I try to shop without buying things in plastic bags. I like to let my produce roam free in my grocery cart. I hope to make some tule net bags this summer to carry along with my net grocery bags. It's not unusual for us to have only 2 bags of trash in the big dumpster each week. I think that's great considering that the rest of the neighbors have 2 dumpsters full to overflowing. I'm always trying to find ways to cut my refuse.

Anonymous said...

This is also one of my dilemmas, Debi. I am debating whether we move towards just reusing paper grocery bags for trash. I have also bought the plastic garbage bags touted as 'biodegradable' but don't trust them either. Great post, thank you. There has got to be a better way.

Kathleen said...

My son Jonathan uses the bags his groceries come in for trash bags. They are smaller, but they still do the job. He's saving money by doing this, but in viewing his thriftiness, I bacame more aware of how I could make more of an effort to be more conscious of how I discard stuff, what I purchase at the grocery store. The ripple effects of this could really serve to cut down on so much toxins that are so hard for the earth to take in. Your post is very eye opening to the effects that this has on our environment. It's really unbelievable that this info hasn't become a mainstream topic and that more ideas have not yet been brought through by those who are in place to share this. Thank you for your thoughtful and helpful post, Debi.
Here's to using more biodegradable products and being more aware of how things are packaged.

Oakland Daily Photo said...

Around here grocery stores accept plastic bags for recycling. I have no idea how it's done. I'm just glad I don't have to throw them in the trash. Do you think I have blinders on?

jomamma said...

On my old car there was a bumper sticker that read "Plastic blows...BYO bag!" I was sitting at a red light once and some people drove up behind me. I noticed the lady was reading the bumper sticker out loud to the man driver, then she said "What does that mean?" I had the top down on my car and there was a tree on the side of the street with a Wal-Mart bag stuck in the branches. I just pointed to the bag. Both she and the driver said "OHHHHHH!" together. I've always said, you can tell how close you are to a Wal-mart by how many bags you can see in the trees and bushes, especially in West Texas.

Godinla said...

I'm sick of learning and being conscientious. I'm going to take a month off and pledge only evil (like so many of us already do).

Nah, that's just the wicked inner me talking. I'm a good boy deep down.

Lucky Dip Lisa said...

I'm with John. I hate plastic! I don't like the look, the feel or even the sound it makes. It's so blimmin hard to avoid too, as you have discovered. I always take my own bags and I do consider the packaging when I buy things but there are somethings that only come...wrapped. Bread bags are one of my pet hates. So hard to reuse, always plentiful and even the recycle place here dosn't take them. I did start to make my own bread, the mix came in a paper bag sewn closed with thread. It was lovelu and it avoided the bag altogether but the problem came with the cost of making the bread. With 3 kids and a husband to feed (my son and I are gluten free and I'm also lacotse free...that's expensive!) I simply can't afford to spend $20 on 6 loaves of bread when I can buy pre-made stuff at $11.50 for 6 loaves. So I am stuck with my bread bags for now. I do amire your efforts Debi. I do the best I can and I think we need to be realistic about what it is we can do. Where we fail in some areas (such as my bread bags!) we need to make up for it in others and keep on searching for better ways. Best wishes to you!

CabinCrazyOne (cc1) said...

Human nature has developed a wonderful society here in America. As we've eliminated most dangers in our lives, we've done everything we can think of to make our lives more economical and convenient.
Plastic is a wonderful material that can be used in zillions of ways. Packaging for instance. We no longer buy crackers out of a 50 gallon wooden barrel standing on the grocer's floor. Just think of all the plastic food packaging we have today, and the crude, heavy, unclean material they've replaced. Not just food items. Electronic gear of all kinds is lighter, stronger and safer because of the plastic components. It's been a long time since I bought a fragile item packaged in excelsior (wood shavings). No longer do we need to ship all goods in heavy wooden crates. Plastic is a lot lighter, it's much stronger, a lot cleaner, and you can see the condition of the goods inside.
It has the down side of being toxic when food is heated in it. So I don't heat food in it. It accumulates in land fills. The positive side of that is ... It'll still be there when we discover a good way to reuse it. Meanwhile it simply lays there taking up space.
Anyone who's been in a busy emergency room can see the wonder of plastic . A sterile plastic envelope is quickly torn open to provide a sterile, light weight, strong injector, mask, tubing ... you name it and it's there to save a life.
And what could replace a modern strong, light weight crash helmet?
If you didn't have that plastic tall kitchen garbage bag what sort of smelly, filthy mess would you have in it's place? Remember the slop bucket (for the pigs)? Remember the burning barrel in the back yard?