The Thing About Plastics
We know that plastics have negative health and environmental consequences. Recently Pendulum covered that Forever Chemicals that are used in plastics are linked to several cancers and hypertension. Forever Chemicals are everywhere – in the ocean, in our drinking water, in rainwater, and in almost everyone’s bloodstream. We discovered the toxicity of BPAs, but our world runs on plastics. For decades politicians have been focused on environmental campaigns, and yet there doesn’t seem to be much of a plastic alternative. We know plastic is quantifiable not good for us, but we can’t quantify how many turtles’ lives were saved when it was popular to switch to paper straws (some paper straws can last an entire oat milk iced latte without dissolving, but many don’t). We produce 300 million tons of plastic each year worldwide, half of which is for single-use items. That’s nearly equivalent to the weight of the entire human population. California already has basically banned plastic bags, and last week another bill was introduced to cut single-use plastics by another 25%. Earlier this year the UK put a hefty tax on plastics in effect, one grocery store chain in the UK has already tried to implement a zero-plastic policy – and has come up with some surprising consequences. When looking at the amount of chemical waste that’s percolated into our lives, consumers can implement some change by their own habits, but the waste is really coming from major factories and manufacturers. The average person can try to make a difference by not throwing out extra food or riding their bike to work – but all the paper straws an individual use just isn’t going to move the needle of change compared to the amount of forever chemicals being used on the industrial level. So, what happens when a business goes plastic-free? The UK grocery store chain, Iceland, rolled its zero-plastic plan into reality. The discovery is that moving away from plastic will be a rocky road for the industry. Firstly, paper wrapping made it easier to shoplift food. Somehow, a paper-wrapped steak is supposedly easier to conceal than a plastic steak. Produce will go bad faster. Banana sales decreased by 30%. Without plastic wrapping, bananas shrank about 20% and spoiled much faster. Paper packaging rips. When handling a sack of potatoes, plastic just does the job better than paper. Per NRDC: it wasn’t until the 1970s that (plastics) popularity skyrocketed. Manufacturers began replacing traditionally paper or glass staples with lighter or more durable and affordable plastic alternatives; plastic jugs replaced milk jars, for instance. Since the 1950s, 8.3 billion metric tons of plastics have been produced, and half of that in the past 15 years alone. When it comes to plastics, there’s an impression that single-use plastics have always been around. As convenient as they are, this type of reliance and disposal of plastic is a new thing. There was a way to do it before the 1970’s, but in a world acclimated to the convenience of plastics it won’t be easy to revert back to less toxic forms of industrial waste.