The Problem with Plastic - It's bad for the Environment and our Health

September 14, 2018

This week I hosted a coffee talk on the subject of plastic pollution and what can be done to reduce the amount of plastic we use.  Alexis McGivern from the Gallifrey Foundation came once again and gave us an extremely informative and well-rounded talk.  She is a joy to listen to.  Not only is she inspirational but she has an infectiously positive approach to encouraging change for the benefit of the environment.  Alexis has seen some shocking things, including a whole island in the Maldives that is dedicated to receiving waste for the rest of the islands.  Whole families live there amongst the acrid fumes from the basic incineration processes they use.  But in spite of this, she casts no judgement on those that can make only a small change to their use of plastic.   She gently encourages her audience to do something big or small to make a positive change and recognises that everyone has limitations.  If lots of us do only a little, it'll still make a big difference.  

 

The main thing I did learn from the talk is that it is far better to refuse plastic where possible rather than recycle it because the process of recycling is energy consuming and plastic is still in the environment.

 

So what I took from the talk is:

 

About plastic pollution

 

  • Introduced in the early 20th century as a replacement for elephant tusk ivory used in billiard balls, piano keys and false teeth.  It was also used as a lighter-weight alternative for materials used in cars and aircraft reducing the fossil fuel consumption (an environmentally friendly alternative)

  • Not all plastic is the same and some plastics are non-recyclable even though they say they are

  • There's no such thing as compostible plastic

  • Black and coloured plastic cannot be recycled

  • PET can only be recycled a few times before the fibres are too damaged to be repurposed

  • BPA (the dangerous and banned chemical in plastic was replaced by BPS which is just as bad) so don't opt for BPA free as it still contains BPS!!

  • Not all plastic bags are recyclable and sometimes it would take less energy if they went into land fill rather than recycling

 

Plastic and our health

  • BPA (the chemical found in hard plastic which can be harmful to our health) leaches into our food - especially meat, wet food and liquid.

  • Heating food in plastic increases the leaching process

  • Chewing plastic breaks it down and allows plastic to enter the body (baby's dummies)

 

What can be done at home?

 

  • Take your own shopping bags to the supermarket

  • Invest in re-usable bags for vegetables and bread (most supermarkets now sell them)

  • Carry a re-usable water bottle to refill with water or a 'keep cup' for coffee and tea

  • Shop at farmers markets, farm shops or the butcher & deli counter in the supermarket to avoid plastic-wrapped food

  • Purchase re-usable food wraps like "Honey wraps'

  • Invest in a soda stream with glass bottles to replace sparkling water in plastic bottles

  • Opt for glass, metal or bamboo food containers

  • Carry re-usable cutlery

  • Repurpose old tupperware instead of throwing it out (use it for storing tools, crayons, garden seeds, pens etc)

  • Refuse plastic straws

  • Opt for hard soap and shampoo rather than liquid ('Lush' is good for this)

I find it hard to do all of these things but I try to do some.  As Alexis said, the term 'Zero Waste' is off-putting for some like me so I'm heading in the direction of 'Low Waste'.

 

 

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