Wrinkled Wisdom – Pretty Please, Pay Attention to Plastics

There’s light at the end of the proverbial tunnel for vaccinated oldies!  Okay, that’s trite.  One late night host was much more creative in describing the Center for Disease Control’s latest guidelines for vaccinated seniors.  He called it an invitation to host “geriatric orgies.” Huh?  We’re just happy to see the grandkids and grocery shop in person.  It’s so satisfying to choose our own grapes and celery; and, while walking around, pick up things we don’t need, like more junk food.  The CDC also said we can now safely eat indoors at restaurants, which brings us to plastics.

Our year of ordering in and grocery deliveries has made us even more aware of plastics.  Takeout delivery includes a lot of single-use items and a lot of plastic!  Remember the 1967 movie The Graduate? In a discussion about Ben’s future, Mr. Braddock says he wants to say one word to Ben.  Just one word…plastics, because there’s a great future in plastics.  Mr. Braddock nailed it over 50 years ago.  Plastic products have increased by over 8% each year since the 1950s.  Huge!

Their impact on our oceans and wildlife has been astounding.  The Great Pacific Garbage Patch in the Pacific Ocean is well-known.  It’s almost six times the size of Colorado and chock full of fishing nets, trash, and plastic debris.  Didn’t know there are now four additional garbage patches in other locations around the world.

Our oceans are saturated with more than eight million tons of plastic waste every year. And, now, microplastics—fragments of any type of plastic—are increasingly seen as a global environmental concern.  Big things eat littler things.  Tiny anchovies eat microplastics and are, in turn, gobbled up by fish that are sold in our supermarkets. It used to be said, jokingly, that we were made of corn and sugar.  Now we can add plastic to that list. 

For visual impact, just google the numerous, heart-wrenching pictures of dead whales and dolphins, their stomachs filled with plastic and trash, or watch the video of a plastic straw being removed from an endangered sea turtle’s nose.  The Coast Guard estimates that more than one million birds and 100,000 marine mammals die each year from eating or getting entangled in plastic debris. And, it’s not just marine animals.  Researchers studying floating plastics in the Persian Gulf region just found over 2,000 plastic bags in the stomach of a dead camel because it ate human trash.

Another depressing fact?  Plastic bags take about 10 to 20 years to decompose in landfills. It’s estimated that plastic bottles take 450 years.  As they degrade, they shed more microplastic shards into the air and water.  And don’t get us started on the microplastic from fleece!  

What can we do as news about plastic gets scarier?  We all recycle, of course.  We should also buy products in containers from recycled plastic.  But, to really make a difference, we need to support investment in better recycling technology, recyclable alternative packaging, and assure recycling is easy, accessible to all, and cheap.  As one newsperson wrote, “Like perms, gaucho pants, and bump-it clips, plastics appear to be trending downwards in the court of public opinion.”  This negativity has spurred companies to research cost-competitive, environmentally friendly replacements for conventional plastics.  Hurry!  

And, when you take those plastic bags back to the grocery store, include produce bags, newspaper bags, zipper sandwich bags, the plastic that covers your dry cleaning, and some acceptable cereal bags with your returns.  Even bubble wrap is recyclable. 

So, our wrinkled wisdom for today?  Seek out products like Dove that clearly indicate you are buying shampoo in 100% recycled bottles.  Lobby for recycle symbols that can be spotted without eyeglasses, much less a microscope!  Check your trash company’s website to learn what is recyclable in your area.  No shredded paper??  Advocate for new chips and snack bags—ones without that shiny layer of polypropylene that protects crispness, but can’t be recycled. Please, do we have to sacrifice munching on Cheetos to be environmentally responsible?  And, if you are worried about plastics AND waiting for grandkids, you might want to read the book Count Down about plastics’ impact on fertility. Or not.

P.S. In some areas, it’s again okay for our reusable bags to accompany us to the grocery store.  Don’t forget to wash them!  We like to think of it as an extension of handwashing.  

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