How to Overcome “Disposable” Plastic Syndrome, Guest Post

Today I want to introduce you to John who writes Practical Civilization and shares my passion for the environment, trees, minimalism and music, just to name a few.

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Today, John, presents ways you can reduce the toxins you leave behind and create a healthier planet by eliminating one thing from your daily life….disposable plastic.  John has written a well-researched post with links for several resources I am sure you will be pleased to have. I wish I had the link for the bamboo toothbrushes before I purchased mine were pricier. ;-(

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Welcome, John.

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Ever wish you and your family could be healthier?

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Of course you do!

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One simple way to improve your family’s overall health is to think about what “disposable” plastics you sentence to the harmful toxin-filled grave for household products known as the landfill. Changing simple consumption habits can have a TREMENDOUS IMPACT on both your health and the environment’s.

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How do we reverse our habits and make healthy changes instead? More on that in a minute, first let’s look at a few facts.

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How Much Plastic Do We Use?

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We’ve all been there. We’re casually strolling through the supermarket or clothing store and selecting our wares that have been conveniently assembled, grown, or manufactured and brought to us from half a world away.

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After having maneuvered our shopping carts around the store like a skilled horse jockey, we come to the checkout line.

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We wait.

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Then the question is presented, “Paper or plastic?”

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Without even thinking, we almost always respond “plastic.” In an ideal world, we all carry around reusable bags of some sort when we go to the store.

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Alas, the world does not work in absolutes and we tend to be forgetful or just plain lethargic. I’ve done it plenty of times.

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But the fact of the matter is 3.5 MILLION TONS worth of plastic bags are discarded each year. All for an item that is used several minutes to transport your goods from the store to your house. About 3% of plastic bags are recycled, meaning that around 3.39 million tons of plastic is added to our landfills annually from the bags alone!

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Plastic bags’ “lifespan” in landfills can be as long as 1,000 years.

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In theory, if plastic bags were made during the days of the Vikings yet we can use them in present times, would we still consider them disposable?

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Aside from plastic bags, there is the fact that for all other plastic products combined, such as bottles, containers, etc., we discard 30 MILLION tons.

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Clearly, we have what I like to call “Disposable Plastic Syndrome.”

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Disposable Plastic Syndrome involves throwing out any containers, bottles, jars, or bags without giving it a second thought.

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And like any debilitating societal disease, the costs are shared by everyone in the community. Why is this?

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Pass the Dioxin Please

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Clearly, we send plenty of tons of plastic to landfills. However, some of it also ends up burning in incinerators. In either scenario, harmful toxins are broken down and released into the air or water streams.

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These toxins in turn happily trickle up the food chain as they are ingested via animals that we eat.

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Here’s how plastic waste incineration works:

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Many of these toxins enter the food supply and become more concentrated as they move up through the food chain. In addition to air and water emissions, incinerators create toxic ash—or slag—which contains heavy metals, dioxins, and other pollutants. This toxic ash must be landfilled, and the pollutants present in the ash can then leach into groundwater.

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In fact, garbage incinerators and medical waste incinerators are two of the largest sources of dioxin identified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Dioxin is the common name for a class of 75 chemicals…Dioxins are among the most potent synthetic chemicals ever tested, causing cancer and harming our immune and reproductive systems even at very low concentrations (Eureka Recycling).

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As for landfills…

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In landfills, leachate is produced when water picks up toxins as it seeps through the trash. This trash includes plastics of all types, even older plastics that have been proven to be toxic but are still in our landfills. Although landfills attempt to collect this toxic leachate, it also leaks into ground and surface water, releasing pollutants into the environment and causing health risks for humans and wildlife (Eureka Recycling).

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So, who wants to live in a community that is overrun with decaying/burnt carcinogens?

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Anyone…anyone…Bueller?

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My point is not to place blame. We all use plastic whetherwe are pouring laundry detergent or shampooing our heads. Plastics are not going away anytime soon.

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But there are simple ways to change how we consume and dispose of plastic products. These habits are known as the Cardinal Rules of Overcoming Disposable Plastic Syndrome.

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The Cardinal Rules of Overcoming Disposable Plastic Syndrome

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1. Avoid “single serving” food products like they’re the plague!

Many prepackaged foods/beverages such as yogurt, applesauce, bottled tea, water, juice, and Gatorade come in one-time use containers made of plastic. If you can find consumables that come in alternative/reusable containers, do so.

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2. Reduce the amount of plastic consumables you consume.

This is a no-brainer, but how to do it? We’ll get to this point in a minute.

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3.Reuse plastic containers.

The web has a vast wealth of creative people and ideas for reusing plastic containers. For starters, check out this site .

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4. Recycle ALL plastic consumables.

Most cities offer curbside recycling pickup. If not, do a Google search for “recycling center my town USA.”

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Specific Tips for a Greater Impact

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So we’ve seen the Reader’s Digest Cardinal Rules of Overcoming Disposable Plastic Syndrome.

And they do work.

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But, if you’re reading this post you want the inside scoop from a wily tree-hugger on how to avoid using plastics! Here are some lesser thought-about tips:

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1. Use wax paper instead of Saran wrap when microwaving meals.

Wax paper can be found at your local grocer in the baking isle.

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2. Trade plastic toothbrushes for ones made of bamboo.

Who knew? Bamboo is a fast growing, sustainable material that is extremely versatile. The toothbrushes can be purchased at Mighty Nest.

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3. Buy reusable containers and water bottles.

Bottles made of aluminum or steel are best because they last many lifetimes! Again, these can be found at Mighty Nest.

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4. Clean with concentrated laundry detergent.

Environmentally conscious companies such as Melaleuca offer many concentrated products that last longer than store brand detergents and household cleaners. The result? Less plastic containers consumed. Note: Melaleuca is a membership based company. To shop with them, you have to pay yearly dues, but you save in the long run as their household consumables last longer than store-bought goods.  

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5. Utilize sandwich and snack bags that are made from cloth and nylon.

When packing lunch for the kids, it can be easy to not think about how many sandwich and snack bags you rifle through. The baggies solve this problem. Yes, nylon does come from plastic, but the idea is that you will no longer have to buy thousands of plastic baggies a year.

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6. Plant a vegetable garden.

Hungry? Instead of buying fresh or frozen veggies and fruits from the store that come in plastic bags, consider planting a garden if the season permits. There are also ways to grow aeroponically, indoors, without any soil! Check out tower garden  and find out how.

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7. Seek out websites and companies that have a built-in mission to reduce or eliminate the amount of plastic they use for products.

Here’s a starter list of sites that offer plastic-free (or at least recycled plastic) consumables for the home: Life Without PlasticBelief Products, and Aquarian Bath.

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Why Care So Much About Plastic?

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Caring about the plastics we throw out is simply one aspect of thinking about the future and what kind of Earth we will leave for new generations. It is one component of an exceptionally broad picture.

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So why care so much about it?

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Because it is a painless, inexpensive starting point. Sure, we all can’t afford to drive Priuses or install solar panels on our house, but we can think about what products we use every day.

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At times, issues about human and environmental health can become misconstrued. As with any industry or business, there will be those that cheat when it comes to branding themselves as “environmentally friendly” or “green.”

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As consumers, it is our job to determine how seriously these companies treat the environment, whether we buy plastic consumable goods or anything else from them. Every dollar is a vote.

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I’ll leave you with something to ponder.

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It can be easy to agree with the fact that on an individual basis, how much of a difference can I really make? Let’s frame that sentiment another way.

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Consider the population of the Earth. We are 7.1 BILLION strong and growing. While it may not make a difference if one person eliminates his/her plastic use on an annual basis, the aggregate plastic waste of 7.1 BILLION inhabitants makes quite a difference right?

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Keep that figure in mind when purchasing consumables. Together, we can build communities that are healthier, happier, and smarter.

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John

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About the Author: John Krygiel is a musician, minimalist, writer, camper, tree hugger, and traveler who enjoys discussing the world with folks and having a beer while doing so. He leads an unconventional lifestyle that does not include the office-cubicle job that pays him to chase the preferred “mainstream life.” He works as a guitar teacher, writer, and solar panel guru. More of his articles can be found at Practical Civilization.

6 thoughts on “How to Overcome “Disposable” Plastic Syndrome, Guest Post

  1. Wow!… reading those statistics just made my head spin… and I feel slightly sick too..
    I try my best especially in supermarket stores and have my own reusable bags.. None plastic.. Often too when I buy, I have my own bag I will ask them not to bag it.. as many shops automatically put into a plastic bag..
    Here in the UK they are going to bring in a charge in April I think.. and will charge customers 5p for each plastic bag they use.. I am unsure to where this money is going.. My hubby said he thought it was going to the government just found a News article on it here
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-26048425

    You have convinced me even further to reduce my plastic within my world Lois .. And Thank you to John for this wonderful Quest Post.. :-)

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  2. Thanks Lois. Good post with good research. Little did we know years ago how bad the plastic problem could be. Now that we know better, many of us are trying to do better. Lots still to learn. I’m slowly converting from plastic storage to glass and regularly embarrass friends and family by taking my own take home container to the restaurant for my leftovers that I know I will have. Plastic wrap in a microwave is carcinogenic. I use a spare plate to cover. My big dilemma is still plastic straws. They are also carcinogenic when used with hot liquids. I can’t drink coffee without one and paper straws disintegrate in coffee. I look for another way but so far have seen nothing. I keep using the same darn bendy straw over and over so not to waste but can’t do without one. No problem with cold drinks. There are people out there who are figuring out ways around this mess we’ve got ourselves into and I hope they hurry. Europe uses no plastic grocery bags unless you pay for them. Makes you think twice about leaving the reusable ones at home. I grew up with net bags or baskets to shop. This country has so much good in it but we still have a lot to learn. You are a good teacher.

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      • Thanks Lois! I’m checking them out. Wonder how many I can break but it would be better than plastic. Thanks for finding them. I don’t know about aluminum for the hair. I think it could be hard on it. I use a brush with wide spaced wooden bristles in a rubber base on a wood frame. It’s gentle on older hair.

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        • Marlene, I am sure they are pretty study as they market them to be safe for children to use. I used to have an aluminum comb and loved it so I’m hoping I can find another one.

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