Sustainable Shepherdstown’s Good Habits Challenge
Plastic is so much a part of our lives. Just as it’s important to know where your food is from (and what it’s made of), it’s also important to know where your trash goes (and what it’s made of). So good luck and hopefully this becomes second nature to you.
This month (and hopefully this becomes habit) the challenge is to cut out one type of plastic regularly used. It could be no more plastic bags from the grocery store, no plastic water bottles, or any of the suggestions below.
Here are some reasons to avoid plastic:
The production of plastic requires toxic chemicals. According to the EPA, plastic uses 5 of the 6 chemicals that produce the most hazardous waste. These chemicals are absorbed by people and have health effects including cancer, body system problems, and developmental problems. 8 out of 10 babies and nearly all adults have plastic bi-products in their bodies.
Petroleum based plastics are not biodegradable. Instead of decomposing over time, plastic breaks into smaller pieces (photodegrades) which leach harmful toxins into the soil and water. We end up ingesting our own poison.
So many of these tiny plastic particles end up in the ocean that the two of the five major gyres (vortexes of seawater caused by colliding currents) have been renamed The Great Pacific Garbage Patch and the North Atlantic Garbage Patch (there are 5 major gyres, each containing trash). Estimates of the size of the Pacific Garbage Patch vary but many sources say it is now twice the size of the United States. The small pieces of plastic also attract other chemicals, making them more toxic. The gyres contain approximately 100 million tons (and growing) of tiny plastic particles and chemical sludge. More than 180 species of animals eat plastic debris, including birds, fish, turtles and marine mammals. The plastic not only clogs the stomachs of these animals, it also poisons them with the chemical concentrate. Many of these fish are then consumed by humans.
What do you do with your plastic?
WORST: Throw it away.
GOOD: Recycle it. The plastic you put in your recycling bin gets sent to Recycle America (a sub-company of Waste Management) in Baltimore. There it is sorted, bundled, and sent to recycling facilities in North America, South America, Europe, and Asia. Plastic bags put in your recycle bin are thrown in the trash. The bags you recycle at Food Lion are sent to corporate headquarters in Greencastle, PA. Corporate didn’t return our call as to which company handles this recycling. One thing to consider: Recycling plastic is an expensive process that also releases toxins into the air. Also: Some of the plastics set aside for recycling are not recycled at all but instead end up in countries such as China and and India because it is cheap to incinerate and environmental laws are more relaxed.
BETTER: Reusing it. Upcycling is using the plastic for other purposes than it was originally intended. More and more people are doing this within their homes and communities. A larger scale example is www.terracycle.net Or simply reusing an item. For example: refilling the plastic water bottles you already own.
BEST: Don’t buy it.
If you’d like to take the challenge a bit further in your life, take notice of all the plastic in and around your home and in your trash. Here are just a few ideas to decrease plastic in your life:
Avoid buying one use plastic items such as straws, water bottles, plates, silverware, cups, etc,… (bring your own cup, bring your own water bottle)
Avoid bagging bananas, oranges, and other produce that have a protective skin.
Cut back or avoid things that are over-packaged and/or individually wrapped: snacks for instance.
Try to find things in bulk. Some places to find bulk items are: Good Natured in Martinsburg and The Common Market in Frederick, MD. Bring your own container.
If you have time and the inclination, make your own foods and products that are packaged in plastic (bread and cookies, laundry detergent, etc.). There are many reference books and blogs. One excellent book is Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post Consumer World by Kelly Coyne.
Consider buying your milk from a local farmer, delivered to your door in re-useable glass jugs. South Mountain Creamary delivers milk weekly ( www.southmountaincreamery.com ), or you can find Trickling Springs milk in area stores. Check www.tricklingspringscreamery.com for locations.
If you have to buy a plastic product, buy recycled plastic or compostable plastic (made from plant material). There are good alternatives for the plastic bag that you might use to clean up after your pet or line your trash can. Check out this site: www.reuseit.com.
For more ideas and help in reducing your plastic footprint, read Plastic Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too by Beth Terry.
Currently, plastics are growing in volume at a rate of about nine percent each year.
Because there is so much plastic in our culture now, there are many ways to reduce our plastic consumption. Hopefully if we reduce, reuse and recycle, the production of plastic will lesson and alternative materials will become the norm.