Thursday, January 24, 2008

Want some tuna with your plastic?

I work with computers/software in regards to laboratory testing for a major medical center. That means--we rely on plastic everyday to save people's lives which is a good thing. So it has been difficult for me to join the "plastic is evil" bandwagon. Plastic has achieved a lot of good. However, now I'm starting to see that it has done a lot of bad as well... I absolutely HATE when my mother's catch phrases prove true! In this case, I grew up hearing "Moderation in all things." You know what? It looks like she was right again...(damn!)

Over the last 40-50 years since plastic has been used for--pretty much everything--many people have taken it for granted. It doesn't cause harm. It's plastic! It's safe! Why do they use plastic for kids' toys? It's safe! ...or maybe not? My questions to the blogosphere are as follows--what if the dangers of plastic aren't immediate? What if the dangers of plastic can only be truly gauged over time? What if in small doses plastic is OK, but in large quantities the toxicity emerges? What if plastic is like arsenic--the poison builds up over time bringing gradual demise and not immediate, shocking, tragic problems?

Guess what? The more I research this topic...the more I'm beginning to think that we have made some very, very poor decisions as a society by over-using plastic. Check out this blog--especially the January 22nd entry:

Did you see all of the plastic on the beaches in the January 22 pictures? And plastic doesn't disintegrate or biodegrade folks! It photodegrades--it just turns into smaller pieces, but it never leaves the planet--ever! Charles Moore is a researcher who has spent the last 10 1/2 years of his life researching ocean debris. Analysis from his research vessel's September 2007 expedition shows a five fold increase in plastic quantities in the North Pacific Gyre since Moore began his research in 1997. And this is just ONE example of how plastic is not as wonderful as we all think it is...

I found more information on Marine ecosystems are harmed by plastic debris. In the Central North Pacific, broken, degraded pieces of plastic outweigh surface zooplankton by 6 to 1. 90% of Laysan Albatross chick carcasses and regurgitated stomach contents contain plastics. Fish and other seabirds mistake plastics for food. Plastic debris release chemical additives and plasticizers into the ocean.

And that is just the time you are the passenger in a car, turn off the radio and look out the window the whole much plastic do you see littering the roadside? I've done this numerous times now and am always amazed at the plastic bags, soda pop bottles and styrofoam containers. Or do an internet search on bisphenol-A and see how it is very possibly causing numerous health issues--but they have crept up so slowly that we are only now beginning to connect the dots. Did you know that Mountain Equipment Co-op, Canada's largest specialty outdoor-goods retailer, says it has pulled most food and beverage containers made of polycarbonate plastic from its shelves, citing concern over possible health risks? The plastic in question is made mostly from bisphenol A, which mimics estrogen and is derived from petrochemicals. For the full story click on this:

Anyways...I know that I've mentioned bits and pieces of all of this before in previous posts...I don't mean to be redundant, but it has been weighing on my mind more and more lately. I'm not jumping into the deep end screaming "Screw plastic! I shall never touch it again!" First of all, I could never keep such a declaration because plastic is insidious--it's everywhere. Several bloggers are trying to go plastic-free in their lives and can't completely get away from it. Secondly, I know that with healthcare in particular, plastic does have its place. The problem is we took a good idea and exploited the hell out of it. I'm no accountant. I'm not in marketing, but I'm betting that we as a society did exactly that because of the almighty dollar. I'm thinking our desire...our greed drove us to this exploitation. How much does any given product cost to make when using cheap plastic versus metal or glass? Begrudgingly I will admit--we should have practiced "Moderation in all things." This is one of those topics that is not just ducky...

1 comment:

CindyW said...

I have been trying to significantly reduce our plastic usage, though I have to admit that it is very difficult because plastic, argh, is everywhere! You blink, you have something plastic in your hand. I am beginning to think that individual voluntary actions are not enough in the case of plastic. We need more drastic measures, such as San Francisco (banning plastic bags). Even China is banning the production and usage of thin bags from June this year.

My dad was an environmental engineer. He worked on industrial water treatment all his life. I have been trying to get him to think about how to break down plastic into bio-degradable format. Unfortunately he is too retired/relaxed to get back in the game. But hopefully there are other scientists and engineers that are working on this day and night :)