Monday, June 16, 2008
Living with plastics
By now we are all aware that conventional plastics are wreaking havoc on the environment. At the same time life without plastics is somewhat unrealistic these days. By reducing your use of plastic, choosing plastic products carefully, and using them safely — you can reduce the risks that plastics pose to you, your family and the environment. Here now for you is the “Smart Plastics Guide”.
• When you do use plastic, it's best to choose those labeled #1, #2, #4, and #5 and avoid those labeled #3, #6, and #7. Remember, even if you're choosing the best plastics, there are still concerns about chemical leaching associated with long term storage or heat.
• Avoid using plastic containers in the microwave. Better to use glass or ceramic containers free of metallic paint.
• Beware of cling wraps, especially for microwave use.
• Avoid plastic bottled water whenever possible.
• If you do use plastic water bottles, take precautions. If you use a polycarbonate water bottle, reduce the possibility of leaching BPA by avoiding warm or hot liquids, and discard old or scratched bottles. Water bottles from #1 or #2 plastics are recommended for single use only. If you do reuse, for all types of plastic, reduce the possibility of bacterial contamination by thoroughly washing daily. However, avoid using harsh detergents that can break down the plastic and increase chemical leaching.
• Parents and pregnant women should be aware to use precautionary measures with plastics. Plastic baby bottles are of particular concern. The Children's Health Environmental Coalition (CHEC) advises avoiding polycarbonate bottles (#7) bottles and instead selecting those made of tempered glass or polyethylene and polypropylene (#1, #2, or #5).
• CHEC also recommends using bottle nipples made of clear silicone to lower the chances of bacteria forming and hiding on its surface. Silicone is also more heat resistant.
• For toys, CHEC recommends avoidance of plastic toys, which are often made of PVC and can leach harmful chemicals when chewed on. They recommend cloth and wooden toys or taking the time to research which toy manufacturers have eliminated PVC from their products.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle:
• Reduce first: Avoid single-use items such as disposable bottles, plates, and cutlery. Prioritize PLA if you must use disposable. To cut down on the total amount of plastic used, prioritize packaged goods in the largest container available, rather than several smaller ones, (for example, a gallon container of water rather than sixteen 8 oz. bottles). Carry a refillable bottle or mug for beverages on the go, and bring reusable cloth bags to stores.
• Reuse: If you regularly buy products that are only available in plastic packaging, buy those you can reuse. You can use them for other purposes or refill them using the precautions already mentioned.
• Recycle: 75% of plastics end up in a landfill or are incinerated after a single use. Plastic recycling has lightened some of the “throw away” burden, but US plastic-bottle recycling rate is still just 25%. After Reduce and Reuse, Recycling is the next best thing. Even if we managed to raise the amount we do recycle, it isn't the ideal solution because it is recycled into lower-quality plastic with limited applications, such as plastic composite lumber, much of which currently ends its life only after its 2nd use. For recycling to work full cycle, purchase items made from or packaged in post-consumer content recycled plastic. If you have a curbside program that doesn't accept certain plastics, consult www.earth911.org to find an alternative drop-off site near you.
For a thorough and informative, if not a bit ominous, read on plastics check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plastic