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A World Of Plastic- Alternatives

Now that we have learned so much about plastic products and the risks they bring, we need to find alternatives. I know that I have stopped using many items in the kitchen and have been using others differently. I am getting used to finding solutions and have been completely eliminating one use convenience items. With change comes work. Let’s see if I can make it a bit easier for you.

We’ll start with straws because they are my biggest pet peeve right now. These single use items rack up amazing figures; ‘Americans use an estimated 500 million disposable straws every day, adding up to enough straws to fill more than 46,400 large school buses per year.’ Plus most of them are wrapped in plastic! I know it will take some time to chisel this number but Starbucks offers reusable straws as does ReUseIt.com and many other fine shops.

Another plastic item that is never going to go away is the plastic bottle. These are completely necessary in the modern world, we just have to be more careful with what we do with them. Most are recyclable and can become something really cool! (See bChill’s Facebook page for our latest posts) Some others really can be phased out like the water bottle. I love water and drink lots of it but have found a new way to include it in my day to day: Brita filter, real glass and/or a reusable bottle. There are all kinds of filters, drinking vessels and reusable bottles everywhere, these are just what I shamelessly plug. You can find any of these items at any home ware, department or even grocery store near you.

Now we must chat about school lunches, picnics and outdoor party events. One use plastic items are synonymous with out of the house eating and drinking. And can be found littering any playground, park or beach. These items, (i.e. plastic forks, spoons, bags, plates, cups) can now be found as a biodegradable or as a multi-use. Some of these products are easier than others to find but Biodegradable Store and the before mentioned ReUseIt.com seem to have quite the selection. Also Lunchskins has adorable sandwich and snack bags for everyday use. Just rethinking the use of these items can make an astounding difference in the environment and your pocket book. You pay for reusable items only once.

There are so many alternatives to these and other disposable and one use items. This ‘LifeWithoutPlastic’ website seems a little messed up but has some great ideas for changes that can be made. Toys, pet supplies, school supplies, home and body care, dining out and travel. And thankfully because of hard work done by the people at Surfrider Foundation and other impressive organizations, the one use plastic bag (and hopefully Styrofoam!) could be part of our past very soon. We can all do our part and bPartOfTheSolution! bPartOfTheFuture and save the future for our children.

(These links go to more information or stores that carry the items we are discussing)

 

 

A World Of Plastic- BPA

We sure have been hearing a lot about BPA over the last few years. Questioning every plastic bottle or toy we think of buying. It is a very real fear. Many governments have called it a true threat to our health. Let’s take a look at BPA, where it is and what it’s really doing.

Bisphenol A (BPA) is a widely produced chemical used primarily for the production of polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins. Polycarbonate plastic is a lightweight, high-performance plastic that possesses a unique balance of toughness, optical clarity, high heat resistance, and excellent electrical resistance. Because of these attributes, polycarbonate is used in a wide variety of common products including digital media, electrical and electronic equipment, automobiles, sports safety equipment, the linings of metal cans and reusable food containers. Mainly you hear about BPA being used to line PET and polycarbonate plastic water bottles as well as some stainless steel and aluminum water bottles. It can also be found in most Type 7 plastics.

So what’s all the fuss about. Websites and articles as recent as 2005 say there is no fuss. “Safety assessments of bisphenol A (BPA) conclude that the potential human exposure to BPA from polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins is more than 400 times lower than the safe level of BPA set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. This minimal level of exposure to BPA poses no known risk to human health.” But you take a look around today and you’ll get a different story.

BPA is controversial because it exerts detectable hormone-like properties, raising concerns about its presence in consumer products and foods contained in such products. Starting in 2008, several governments questioned its safety, prompting some retailers to withdraw polycarbonate products. A 2010 report from the US FDA raised further concerns regarding exposure to fetuses, infants, and young children. In September 2010, Canada became the first country to declare BPA a toxic substance. The European Union, Canada, and recently the United States have banned BPA use in baby bottles. Sounds to me there may be a slight risk.

Another place you will be exposed to BPA is at the dentist. “Materials used in white fillings or as sealants — which prevent future decay — can break down into BPA after coming in contact with saliva,” says Abby Fleisch, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital Boston. “BPA levels in saliva can spike to 88 times higher than normal immediately after a dental sealing,” Fleisch says. “Tests can detect BPA in saliva for up to three hours after the procedures, although levels quickly drop off after that.” Fleisch continues, “Doctors don’t know how much BPA is absorbed into the body, however, or what its effects might be. But dental materials probably cause far less BPA exposure than other consumer goods, such as plastic bottles and the linings of metal cans.” However, you should remember back in 2005, there was no risk.

MedicineNet.com gives us this statement, “The use of this chemical is so profound that it was detected in the urine in 93% of the population over 6 years of age.” I don’t know about you but this scares the wits out of me. 93%!!! In my urine!!! BPA is said to be a endocrine disruptor which can mimic estrogen and may lead to negative health effects. BPA can be linked to cancer, diabetes and obesity. It has also been determined that there was “some concern” about BPA’s effects on fetal and infant brain development and behavior.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that limiting your intake of BPA can be nothing but good. Since it has been declared “toxic”, and it is still being used, you are going to have to make some tough choices on where your intake will be. And even if an item says it’s ‘BPA Free’, do your research, many are skating by. Until something is done to eliminate BPA altogether, we must protect our families all on our own.

A World Of Plastic-Type 7

So we come to the end of our plastic triangle journey. It has been quite informative and I feel like I have a better grasp on what to do with the plastics I find in my life. Our last plastic is Type 7 and it really is in it’s own little click. Type 7 plastics are different from all other categories of plastic materials because these plastics are made from a combination of plastics or a plastic material that does not fall under any of the other classifications. It has no name and sometimes no symbol. Let’s just call it ‘other’.

“Other: when plastics are made with a resin other than the six listed before, or is made of more than one resin and used in a multi-layer combination.” I guess we will never know what they really are. We do know some of the stuff they become; three- and five-gallon water bottles, sunglasses, toothbrushes, DVDs and electronic product casings, bullet-proof materials, computer and MP3 player casings and many plastic signs and displays. Most of it tends to be reusable products that stand up to years and years of wear.

Since most of these products are made from a different formula most of the time there is no way to know how to recycle it. Each item could have a different chemical make up so there is no way to know how to break it down. You may have to do some digging to find a commercial recycling program or electronic waste center for these products. And we can always count on the folks at Earth911.com to help us out. “More ambitious consumers can feel free to return such items to the product manufacturers to avoid contributing to the local waste stream, and instead put the burden on the makers to recycle or dispose of the items properly”, say the folks at about.com. Not sure I’m that ambitious but who knows! I really do wish that manufacturers would think about the products they are making and their affects on the environment when they are discarded.

So it’s a wrap! We have gone though 1-7 and now know the good, the bad and the ugly. There are a few more areas to dabble in like BPA and alternatives to plastics so see ya next week. Let’s keep up the great work we all do for our planet, our children and our future.

 

A World Of Plastic-Type 6

Peanuts, popcorn, foam, bubble wrap. It all sounds like fun and games to me. All these fun sounding items are packing materials made from Type 6 plastic. Type 6 is called polystyrene (PS), or you may know it by it’s trademarked name, ‘Styrofoam’. Since Polystyrene (PS) can be rigid or foamed you will find it in all sorts of places. PS is one of the few plastics that have lowered it’s usage percentage, down 9%. Let’s take a look at why it’s not as fun as it sounds.

PS  is most commonly used for protective packaging but you also find it as CD and DVD cases, electronic housing, medical products, plastic cutlery and toys. It’s also used a lot in food service items – cups, plates, bowls, takeout containers, meat trays and egg cartons. Being that these one use products are so light weight they are prone to fly away and land in gutters, sidewalks, parking lots, highways, wild spaces, creeks, rivers and the ocean where they pose threats to beauty, wildlife and natural ecosystems.

Styrofoam has a well deserved bad wrap. Cities all over the USA and the world are calling for it’s complete dismissal. Berkley and San Francisco were some of the first cities to ban styrofoam completely. It is now illegal to use styrofoam containers, clam shells, bowls, plates, cartons and cups in restaurants and for take out orders. For other reasons than their light weight these food vessels tend to become litter at an alarming rate and really have a horrible impact on the environment and folks in general.

PS not only wants to ruin the environment, it wants to ruin you. The various components of Styrofoam are known to cause health problems. Styrene, for instance, is a common concern with Styrofoam food containers where it is released into food when it is heated and could have toxic effects when consumed. People who are constantly exposed to Styrene in large quantities are known to exhibit skin and eye irritation, gastrointestinal problems, headaches, fatigue or problems with kidney functions. Better rethink that second cup-of-joe.

PS likes to keep it all fair and square so it contributes to air pollution as well. For instance, pentane is used as a blowing agent to create the foam-like structure of Styrofoam. During the blowing process, pentane is dispersed into the air where it contributes to smog. Also, millions of tons of Styrofoam are incinerated annually because of the difficulty of disposing or recycling it. The incinerated material ends up as airborne toxic ash.

In addition, according to the Earth Resource Foundation, $350,000 is spent annually to clean up litter in Orange County, California and approximately 25 percent of that is Styrofoam. Nationally, millions of dollars are spent to address this problem not only regarding litter but also wildlife management, pollution countermeasures and health care bills. This fun foam has got to go!!!

It’s no secret that I can’t wait until Styrofoam is no more. As a community cleaner finding this stuff in the waterways, parks and beaches makes me sad. And as it lays in the sun for months it falls into little pieces that can not even be collected. This pollution has an awful affect on the oceans and becomes food for the fish. They get sick and die or they get caught by a fisherman and become dinner for our families. It’s a vicious cycle so let’s put an end to it once and for all. Boycott Styrofoam in your town restaurants and save not only the environment, save your family.

 

A World Of Plastic-Type 5

Not that this is any big surprise but Type 5 plastics are mainly used for food packaging. Shocking! Polypropylene, or PP is used for countless one use products and the #5 triangle is not the easiest to find a future home for. Let’s take a closer look at PP and see what’s really going on.

These products all look familiar to us. Yogurt containers, margarine, deli meats, pre-cooked items, straws (my nemesis), pill bottles, bottle caps and “Ziploc” or “Glad” reusable containers. They can be used for thousands of things afterwords but rarely are. In lots of cases even if a bottle cap or lid does not have a symbol, it is most likely a Type 5 plastic. PP is known for its high melting point which makes it ideal for holding hot liquids that cool in the bottles. It is also great for hot food items and can be considered microwave-safe for a short time. PP can be manufactured to be flexible or rigid, hence it’s many uses.

Oddly, PP is not widely welcome at the recycling center. It is said that PP is not “mainstream” enough. Weird because bottle caps and straws are pretty numerous in beach clean ups I have joined. Since 95 to 96 percent of the bottles that are manufactured are either Type 1 or 2, Type 5 slips through the cracks. And in most cases, quite litterally… (Yes, I know it’s spelled wrong, it’s a pun.) However, PP has a similar type resin to that of Type 2 so reclaimers are starting to find ways to incorporate it into other products. This is good news.

I was told years ago that if the people continue to add such Type 5 items to their recycling bins they would have little choice but to incorporate them into their work. I found this to be true while living in San Diego. For years I put my dairy containers in the bin and one day they added them to the list. Magic! Bottle caps are being accepted more and more everyday. “During the grinding and wash process for #1 or #2 bottles, the bottle material will sink and the cap material will float,” says Judith Dunbar, the director of environmental and technical issues (plastics) for the American Chemistry Council. “It’s really a volume issue, just like anything else,” she explains. “If you don’t have a lot of volume, then it’s not going to sell.” Therefore we need to leave those bottle caps on. They do wish for them to be on loosely, but not so that they fall off and jam the machines. (I found these machines to be very interesting if you want to take a look.)

As you know, I am no expert, not a chemist, not a professional recycler, but I have a potentially great idea. Why not perfect just one type of plastic that could do all the things 1-5 are doing? This would solve lots of problems with the recycling. All the plastics could go to the same centers and become a new item. No messy system. No confusion. No separate bins. It would make it SO easy and people would be more likely to become involved. Maybe I am just a dreamer but it seems that there are different types of plastics that do the same thing.

The biggest problem continues to be that only small amounts of all plastics being recycled. And, as I may have mentioned, it is due to the confusion. If it’s not easy, it’s not going to happen. Education and convenience are the #1 and #2 goals for us all in this world of plastic. We all need to do our part for the future of our children and their planet.

 

A World Of Plastic-Type 4

Up to this point the information on plastic has been extremely interesting. Not that Type 4 is boring but we have pretty much talked about it in one way or another. Low-density polyethylene, or LDPE is really similar to it’s cousin Type 2 and is responsible for those plastic bags we wrote a whole blog about.

LDPE is strong like HDPE but it is also very flexible therefore it is used for squeezable bottles. I would say a good portion of those summer allies at the picnic table are going to be Type 4 bottles. Those ketchup, mustard, mayo and relish bottles fit that bill perfectly. LDPE is also used to produce grocery bags and garbage bags, shrink wrap, stretch films, and coating for milk cartons. It can be found in some toys, various packing materials and carpet.

Since LDPE is used in so many random products the recycling of it is iffy at best. Some centers will take the bottles and milk cartons. Most curbside will say NO WAY!, too much work to separate the good from the bad. As for the bags, many stores all over the world have programs going on everyday. Plus, as we discussed in “A World Of Plastic-The Plastic Bag”, they are being banned all over the planet. The small amount of LDPE being recycled can become more carpet, bottles or bags but the numbers are dreadfully low, only about 3% worldwide.

LDPE has the same chemical concerns as Type 1 and 2 plastics. Heating these materials in the microwave or dishwasher can cause them to break down and leach. Most studies will give Type 4 a vote of approval for reusable water bottles and food related uses. So much better to use one LDPE bottle for your active lifestyle than all those one use water bottles. And cheaper!!!

And since we are talking reusing, how about bringing a shopping bag or two with us to the store? It’s time we should all get used to it because hopefully those plastic ones will be gone soon. Time for the shameless plug, bChill has both reusable bottles and bags available in our online store. 😉

Type 4 plastics need to figure out what they are doing so we can reuse the good and eliminate the bad. The benefits of some of it’s production are numerous but it’s hoarding of the landfill is ridiculous. We are lucky to be able to help out on this one. bRecycling, bReducing, bReusing and bRefusing. And bChill.

 

A World Of Plastic-Type 3

All you have to do is search “poison plastic” on the internet and Type 3 plastics gets a whole page. I am not even trying to be mean or unfair, Polyvinyl chloride (PVC or vinyl) has earned this rep all on it’s own. There are articles by the Center For Health, Environment and Justice (this is not a government agency), Greenpeace and even a video on YouTube declaring it poison. You know if it’s on YouTube it has to be real. Let’s take a look at PVC and make up our own minds.

PVC and vinyl are names most people have heard of. Have a plumbing problem, PVC. Wrap a sandwich in cling wrap, PVC. Give your baby their bottle, PVC. Spin the record round and round, PVC. There are tons of uses for this plastic; shower curtains, variety of clear bottles and packaging products, medical bags, faux leather products, toys. PVC plastic is the third most common type used in the US and the UK. PVC can be manufactured to be either rigid or flexible. The rigid comprises 70% of all that is made.

Due to the chemical make up of PVC, it is not a welcome member at your local recycling center. PVC is made from many different formulations composed of various additives which makes breaking it down into it’s original components nearly impossible. To further complicate matters, when a single PVC bottle is combined with a batch of 100,000 recycled non-chlorinated bottles, the entire batch is contaminated and unusable. When it is recycled, it is made into inferior, lower quality products, such as binders, decking, speed bumps and traffic cones. The best tips for recycling this product are Precycle, avoid it if possible, and Reuse, donate it. Makes you wonder where all that waste is going.

Since PVC is so difficult to recycle most of it sits in landfills or it is incinerated. The big problem with Type 3 is that it creates dioxins which are extremely toxic and carcinogenic. There are a number of health problems associated with it such as developmental and reproductive disease, immune system damage, and cancer.  Medical waste incinerators, backyard burn barrels and municipal solid waste incinerators account for 80% of all dioxin emissions to air. Disposing of PVC into landfills results in dioxin poisoning of landfills and groundwater. Not as pretty a picture as this incinerator plant in Vienna makes. 

To perplex the situation even more we have to bring up DEHP, Bis(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate (I’ll let you look it up). This colourless viscous liquid is soluble in oil, but not in water. DEHP is widely used as a plasticizer in the manufacturing of articles made of PVC. This fluid PVC makes up the remaining 30% manufactured.  DEHP is toxic! The FDA put out a warning in 2002 about medical supplies. They also have warnings for food products. The new guidelines for DEHP-containing food packaging are; “Only for foods that primarily contain water”. That sure makes me feel safe. DEHP is known to cause smaller genital size and other feminizing links, obesity, toxicity and cardiotoxicity. Aggh, I’m shaking my head… Why is it still being used!?

So what are we to do? Many companies are figuring out they are poisoning their customers and are making changes. Many toys, food wraps and medical supplies are being produced without PVC. Other products contain warnings to not microwave or reuse but it is best to find alternatives to Type 3 plastics altogether. Not only can you save your planet, you can save your family.

A World Of Plastic-Type 2

Running a little behind on my way up the triangle plastic ladder. I have some house guests this week that are very interested in the whole thing. They keep asking me questions about this piece of plastic or that one… I keep telling them to read my blog! Let’s see what Type 2 has going on. Type 2 is very similar to Type 1 but it has a higher density, therefore called high-density polyethylene. You may also see it as HDPE. I sometimes mistake it with my failing eyes as HOPE. Let’s see how hopefully it really is.

Like PETE/PET, HDPE is used for lots of bottling. It has good barrier properties; it’s well suited for packaging products with a short shelf life and has great chemical resistance. You will know it best as milk, juice and water bottles like it’s counter part Type 1. The high density of this plastic also makes it ideal for household items such as shampoo, conditioner, detergent, cleaners, motor oil, and antifreeze.  It can also be found in pipe, tiles, plastic film and sheeting, buckets, crates, and oddly, recycling bins. This plastic is stronger and can be used in a more day to day item.

Due to it’s properties, Type 2 is  highly regarded at the recycling plant, like Type 1. Most, if not all programs will take Type 2 plastic and have many reuses for it. You see the leftovers all over the place as re-manufactured toys, floor tile, picnic tables, plastic rope and fencing. Besides all those great things HDPE can be used to make Tyvek. Tyvek is the brand name made by Dupont for it’s flashspun high-density fibers. You have probably fought with in when that Fed-Ex package came to your door. I can rip this open… dang… where are those scissors? Hazmat employees wear Tyvek when cleaning up those awful messes.

There aren’t too many of those warnings out there about reuse of Type 2 because it’s not in the kitchen so much. The same things are true about the reuse but who’s really reheating in motor oil bottles? In fact I have read the opposite about HDPE. It is recommended for water storage. Due to it’s opaque coloring it is ideal for keeping sun out and algae and bacteria to a minimum. But be sure that container is BPA free too.

As wonderful as Type 2 plastics are and can be, the problem remains that they are not being recycled enough. It still remains that only about 10% are recycled worldwide. That leaves a bunch of heavy, high density trash polluting the planet. Keep up the great work and tell a friend. Your babies will thank you.

A World Of Plastic-Type 1

My first in depth study will be on the most widely used plastic, polyethylene terephthalate. Polyethylene terephthalate is more commonly known as PETE/PET or that water/soda bottle you are drinking from right now. If you are not a bottled beverage person, the chances that you have used something made from PETE/PET today are extremely high. I would bet on it.

PETE/PET are very tough and shatterproof.  It provides a barrier to oxygen, water, and carbon dioxide which makes it ideal for keeping soda carbonated, your juices fresh and your condiments tidy. It is used for everything from your kicthen to your medicine cabinet. Peanut butter to mouthwash. Salad dressing to aspirin. Microwavable foods to beer. (Yes, just because you can’t see it does not mean it’s not there. Many cans are lined with plastic for sealing and freshness.)

This amazing plastic is also highly regarded in the recycling plant. These plastics are the easiest to recycle and have created quite the list of new products including bean bags, ropes, car bumpers, polar fleece and carpet, as well as fiberfill for coats, sleeping bags and life jackets. Very impressive.

Although PETE/PET sound like outstanding members of the community they come with their share of problems. Biggest one being that only about 1% of these bottles are actually being recycled worldwide. Well over 50 billion gallons of water is being sold in plastic bottles every year. Then we have milk, soda, juice, mustard… You don’t have to be a mathematician to figure out that trillions of plastic bottles are not being recycled. Where are they now? Oh, found some!

Another big problem is the caps. This cap is a big reason why lots of people don’t recycle. They say it is just too confusing and too much trouble. Do I take the cap off? Do I put the cap in another bin? It’s plastic too, why can’t it just go with the rest? The little safety seal stays on the bottle why can’t the cap? Why? Why? Why does it have to be so hard. Let’s try to figure it out.

It is really weird because the cap is made from the same PETE/PET, just thicker, have color added and may have some foreign particles that would go noticed in a clear bottle. Due to the thickness and color, they must be melted at a higher heat. There are also stories of the caps shooting off the bottles in the press. Employees have been losing eyes, don’t you know. But the biggest reason is money… The thick particle filled cap is of a lower grade and it would ruin the vat, so to speak. Hence any bottle found in the recycling bin with a lid will be thrown away rather than recycled. I’m hoping that this problem will be solved in the very near future. Aveda has a program for caps called “Be The Change” but at this point it is to capacity. Find other programs at “Caps Can Do”.

Last but not least is the health problems that PETE/PET can cause. “PET was found to break down over time and leach into the beverage when the bottles were reused. The toxin DEHA also appeared in the water sample from reused water bottles. DEHA has been shown to cause liver problems, other possible reproductive difficulties, and is suspected to cause cancer” say the folks at MedicineNet.com. There have been other studies done on microwavable trays. They “are only to be used one time and not to store or prepare foods other than those for which they are intended.” They leave us with a tip ” it’s best to recycle these bottles and trays without reusing them.” Ok, thank you! Should I really be using them at all?

Type 1 plastic is not going anywhere, anytime, whether it is recycled or not. Folks need more information on how and why we need to recycle this beautiful monster. And making the disposal of it as convenient as having it in the first place. Teaching our children is key. After all, it’s their future we are destroying.

A World Of Plastic-The Triangle

We are all programed pretty well to look for the triangle on plastic containers. We finish up with a beverage and see if it goes in the recycle bin or the trash. We empty out a premade meal and see if it hits the curb in the blue or green bin. Should I rinse it out? Should I take the lid off? And what do I do with ‘those’ containers? Or does the packaging from ‘that thing’ go in there? What do they all mean and what do I do with it now?

We know there are different kinds. They are numbered one through seven. They have names that make them sound mysterious and complicated; Polyethylene Terephthalate, Polyvinyl Chloride and Polystyrene. And to be hip they go by PET or PETE, PVC and PS. They also get into clicks and call themselves The Tough and Shatterproofs, The Vinyls and The Transparents. They are all way too cool for me. 

The other thing that is coming out in the rumor mill about these different numbered triangles is that they may be unsafe. Words like leach, toxic and risk are all over the medical blogs and news. There are all sorts of new guild lines being put into place. Do not reuse that water bottle. And do not leave it in your hot car. Do not store food in this kind. Do not put plastic in a microwave. Do not let your child chew on that toy! These are really scary warnings. It sounds to me like they are saying “Do not ingests the stuff we are packing your food in or making your stuff with.”

Over the next few weeks I plan to find out what all these numbers mean. Why are number one and two so acceptable? Why are number five and seven being shunned at the recycling center? Which ones are better for storing food? Which are safe for my children? Which ones are doing great things and which ones are messing us up. Hope you join me for my journey through the triangle.

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