Plastic (Not So) Fantastic

A friend of mine recently pointed me towards a blog on the BBC’s website written by a woman who decided to give up plastic for a month.

My initial thought was: Why? It seems a bit extreme. What’s so bad about plastic? OK, so the creation of plastics relies heavily on the oil industry, but provided we don’t over-rely on it, and recycle regularly, what’s the issue?

By the end of the month, I’d changed my mind. Here’s why:

1) Apparently there are about 9 “gyres” or currents circling the world’s oceans. In one of the blog entries, she highlights the cross-Pacific journey made by Dr Marcus Eriksen and film-maker Joel Paschal in a boat made from junk. The photo you see above is of the plastic “soup” that fills these gyres, and all the gyres are thought to be in a similar condition. These plastics are reckoned to have been through marine life about 9 times now, and are pretty much part of the food chain. I did see a web page with an example of a fish cut open, with 14 pieces of undigested plastic in its stomach, and a whole report on it. Unfortunately I can’t find the link.

2) The amount of things that are made from plastic now and don’t need to be are insane. Those facial scrubs that have tiny stones in them? Many of them have replaced the stones with plastic beads. Plastic is used to contain just about everything, where paper and card used to do just fine. Years ago, strawberries (for example) used to be a luxury, and came packed in card punnets. Now for two weeks every year, the country is awash with strawberries, all packed into plastic punnets. That’s just two examples, there are many others I could point to, but don’t have the space here.

3) Plastics leech into our food, especially from what’s known as BPA. I’m no chemist, but apparently under certain conditions, plastic will leech toxic chemicals into foods as it breaks down, especially fatty food (remember the scare about wrapping cheese in clingfilm a few years ago?) Plastic bottles of mineral water are designed for SINGLE USE only, so re-using them to carry water is not great. About the best thing, if you want to take water with you, is a stainless steel canteen favoured by campers.

I honestly don’t know how to deal with this one. A part of of me thinks you can’t avoid plastics altogether, although my current favourite plastic-less blogger, Fake Plastic Fish, seems to do just that pretty well. But at another level, I recognise that the current level of plastic usage is unsustainable, and something needs to be done urgently, as current re-cycling methods are clearly not enough to stop plastic getting into the food chain.

Thoughts, anyone?


POSTED 04.11.08 BY: paulabbott | Comments (5)

5 Responses to “Plastic (Not So) Fantastic”

  1. On November 4th, 2008 at 10:18 am maggi said:

    i agree! I can’t give it up entirely but my son and I have a bit of an ongoing campaign to avoid plastic whenever we can do without or use something sustainable. It’s actually quite fun to do once you get into it.

  2. On November 4th, 2008 at 10:44 am Michael Radcliffe said:

    What sort of sustainable things do you use in place of plastics?

  3. On November 5th, 2008 at 11:44 pm David James Harris said:

    I think there’s something very interesting here about the way we use plastic. One of the qualities of plastic (at the same time as being it’s major down-side) is that, when used in a certain way, it is strong, durable and doesn’t really rot down. My grandfather had a kitchen installed 25 years ago that he’s still using now. It’s made largely of plastic based products. Compare that now to the chipboard stuff landlords across the city stick in a flat only to be replaced two years later.
    Surely a higher level of sustainablity can be achieved through the long life of plastic products, just as long as the material is not used to have a lifetime that lasts half a week.
    So essentially it’s not about the material but about the way we use the material.
    ps…I’m never going to use a facial scrub in my life ever again.

  4. On November 6th, 2008 at 12:42 pm Michael Radcliffe said:

    I think that’s true, but there are re-usable plastics that still leech.

    My sandwich box for example. People are also (understandably) worried about baby bottles.

    Bakelite is pretty good apparently. Evrything used to be made from it, but it’s a bit too brittle for some uses.

    I dunno – I’d heard that it’s possible to synthesize a plastic-like product from hemp oil or linseed oil (Old Lino used to be made from linseed oil, hence the “Li” in “Lino”).

    There must be better options.

  5. On November 8th, 2008 at 2:39 pm maggi said:

    hi again michael – like, papre bags instoead of plastic (reused over and over till they fall to pieces), hemp or cotton bags for shopping, boxesa nd containers made of wood and leather, flower pots – terracotta, plates and cups – china/glass, viscose/silk/cotton instead of polyester, etc etc. Shopping: AFAP instead of the supermarket I pick up stuff from my local butcher’s, where they don’t pre-pack in plastic, where there are paper bags if you really need them but most stuff gets put directly in the hemp shopper. nothing radical really. just what other people do (or mean to do)

    Of course none of these equations are that simple – as soon as you look at the use of “natural” products, there are other issues to consider too – like paper coming from trees, for instance, or the impact of farming for leather goods etc