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Is a Plastic-Free Life Possible?

Updated: Feb 9

Plastic-free Life_Plastic Detox

Is a plastic-free life possible? The truth is, not based on the path we are currently on. Plastic is ubiquitous, and it is nearly impossible to avoid. Humanity has grown accustomed to a life of convenience, affordability, and instant gratification, and this has led to plastic dependence and thus plastic waste. It is a continuous cycle that grows in rate each day- consumers create the demand, businesses supply it, and manufactures create it.


Many believe that plastic pollution is the responsibility of large corporations to deal with, and fewer believe that we as individuals can make an impactful difference. However, we have the power to change our purchase choices, we have the power to speak up about issues we believe in, and we have the power to make a difference. Let’s look deeper to see if a plastic-free life is possible:

  • Problem One: Cost and Customer Demand

  • Problem Two: Pollution

  • Problem Three: Health Concerns

  • The Solution: Us


Problem One: Cost and Customer Demand

Today, we love things that are convenient and provide instant gratification. We are used to single-use products, fast fashion, and on-the-go purchases that create billions of tons of waste every year.


Let’s think about why plastic was created. When plastic was first developed over 70 years ago, it provided an opportunity for enterprises to mass-produce products for a fraction of the price. Because plastic was cheap and easily accessible, it quickly became the best choice for product manufacturing firms. These benefits remain true today, which is why the demand for plastic continues- cost of goods are cheaper for businesses as they can create more products at a lower cost per unit, and the price of those finished goods are cheaper for consumers, meaning they can buy more with less of a dent to their pocket.


While cheaper goods seem like a win-win for businesses and consumers, this cycle has lasting implications for our world the longer it continues. How will we get consumers to make better-informed decisions and move away from using plastic for everything? Customers need a reason to buy plastic-free. Pollution and individual health are two of the reasons we believe customers need to avoid plastic products.


Problem Two: Pollution

When plastic was first created, it was seen as a groundbreaking invention. There was now a way to create alternatives to expensive products, mass-produce them, and sell cheap. But this perspective about the revolutionary discovery quickly changed as plastic pollution became widespread.


Plastic causes pollution throughout its lifecycle, from conception to disposal. Plastic is a man-made material known as a petrochemical and is made from petroleum (crude oil) and natural gas. Refineries that create plastic burn petroleum and gasses that cause polluting emissions like carbon dioxide, plastic is then transported around the world to manufacturers and distributors, leading to even more pollution from gas. Once plastic reaches the end of its life, it is thrown out, creating yet another issue because it is a man-made material that cannot be broken down.


As plastic pollution worries grew, the plastic industry came up with the recycling program and had waste management programs implement it to ease the concerns of consumers. However, recycling programs were, and still are, far from flawless. Recycling alone is expensive because plastic comes in many types, so it is difficult to collect, sort, and melt down. New plastic is frequently selected over recycled options by businesses because it is less expensive and of higher quality. While well-intentioned, recycling programs have a long way to go to be more efficient and reduce the demand for new plastic creation.


So, how bad is the plastic pollution problem? It’s difficult to comprehend as consumers are mostly shielded from its impacts, but the figures are staggering. Americans produce over 36 million tons of plastic waste per year (that’s around 220 pounds of plastic waste per US citizen). Where does all that end up? As odd as it sounds, it is being exported. Up until 2018, much of U.S. garbage, including plastic waste, was being shipped to China. As a response to the trade war, China stopped accepting these shipments. The U.S. scrambled to find a solution for our plastic and waste.

Today less then 10% of US waste is being recycled. The rest is either sent to a landfill, incinerated, or is shipped to poor areas of Asia and Africa. Doesn’t seem like much of a solution, does it? In fact, it sounds negligent. While many activist organizations strive to draw attention to these issues, the problem of plastic waste persists. Read our blog on recycling to learn about what you can do to increase recycling rates.


Problem Three: Health Concerns

Once plastic is made, it is here to stay. Due to its synthetic properties, it doesn’t biodegrade; instead, it breaks into bits called microplastics. It is at this stage that plastic can be consumed by humans through our food and air. The United Nations Environment believes that microplastics and plastic waste are two of the biggest environmental issues the globe is facing. Consuming plastic directly is not the only way plastic can be ingested. It can also leach out chemicals like Bisphenol A into our foods that are being stored in plastic.


Bisphenol A (BPA) are chemicals that are added during the production of plastic that make plastic malleable, allowing them to be formed into different things. Bisphenol A, commonly known as BPA plastic, has shown mounting concerns on prenatal, childhood, and adult health. BPA is an additive that enters plastic during production. BPA has been extensively studied as an Endocrine Disruptor that causes interference with the body’s

Childhood Obesity and Coronary Heart Disease linked to BPA plastic
Source: National Library of Medicine (2008)

hormones. Toxins from BPA have been estimated to be responsible for 12,404 cases of childhood obesity and 33,863 cases of coronary heart disease in 2008.


While many companies have done away with BPA in their products, are the replacements any better? Very little testing has been done on new compounds and there are many unknowns. Here are some replacements for BPA that you should keep an eye out for: bisphenol S (BPS), bisphenol AF (BPAF), and tetramethyl bisphenol F (TMBPF). Plastic is slowly impacting our health, and there are no signs to suggest that this will change. It’s hard to avoid such a sensible reason for cutting out plastic.


The Solution: Us!

To see if a plastic-free life was possible, I attempted to go just a few days completely plastic-free. A few things were particularly noticeable to me: planning was a must, extra steps were required, and reactions from others were mixed. One theme was clear - it takes a lot of effort. While yes, I could individually decide not to purchase anything with plastic, it was still all around me. Trying to live even a few months with no plastic would be nearly impossible. Becoming aware of this made me realize that if I wanted change, I had to create it. Life without plastic is a huge ask. Instead, consider choosing one to two items that you frequently purchase that could be replaced with a plastic alternative.


We know the demand for plastic is there, but how do we account for the detrimental effects of it?


Here are 8 things you can do today to make a difference:

  1. Avoid plastic products - Buy less, up-cycle, buy used, or use what you have

  2. Purchase durable goods - Goods that last three years or more

  3. Choose plastic alternative products - Look for products made with bamboo, steel, wood, glass, or cotton alternatives

  4. Buy from local farmers markets - Doing this can cut back on the need for individual packaging that you see in grocery stores

  5. Demand change starting locally - Meet with local officials to present your proposal to ban plastic products: bags, plastic cutlery, plastic straws

  6. Cut out single use plastic - Replace with a plastic-free alternative

  7. Ask businesses to provide better alternatives - Write to businesses asking for recycling programs for their products and ask them to swap out their plastic packaging

  8. Take the Plastic-Free Friday pledge - Four days a month avoid the use of single-use plastic products.


The goal is to raise awareness around plastic waste and help to identify ways to make a difference. For plastic-free product options for your every day routine check out the Plastic Detox shop.



Plastic-free products sold at Plastic Detox, a plastic-free store


 

References

  1. Campanale, C., Massarelli, C., Savino, I., Locaputo, V., and Uricchio, V. (2020). A Detailed Review Study on Potential Effects of Microplastics and Additives of Concern on Human Health. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7068600/

  2. Factory Direct Promos (n.d). 3 Steps to Starting a Bag Ban in Your Community. Retrieved from: https://www.factorydirectpromos.com/blog/3-steps-to-starting-a-bag-ban-in-your-community/

  3. Green America (n.d.) Could You Go Plastic-Free? Retrieved from: https://www.greenamerica.org/green-living/could-you-go-plastic-free

  4. Harnett, K., Chin, A., and Schuh, S. (n.d.). BPA and BPA alternatives BPS, BPAF, and TMBPF, induce cytotoxicity and apoptosis in rat and human stem cells. Retrieved from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0147651321003213#:~:text=These%20alternatives%20are%20chemical%20analogs,the%20monomer%20of%20valPure%20V70).

  5. Kharrazian, D. (April 2014). The Potential Roles of Bisphenol A (BPA) Pathogenesis in Autoimmunity. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3997912

  6. Roscam Abbing, M. (2019). Plastic Soup: An Atlas of Ocean Pollution. Island Press. Science History Institute (n.d). Science Matters: The Case of Plastics. Retrieved from: https://www.sciencehistory.org/the-history-and-future-of-plastics#:~:text=The%20Development%20of%20New%20Plastics,no%20molecules%20found%20in%20nature

  7. Rapoza, K. (Jan. 2021). China Quits Recycling U.S. Trash as Sustainable Start-Up Makes Strides. Retrieved from: https://www.forbes.com/sites/kenrapoza/2021/01/10/china-quits-recycling-us-trash-as-sustainable-start-up-makes-strides/?sh=46f39ec45a56

  8. Recycle Across America. Retrieved from: https://www.recycleacrossamerica.org/recycling-facts

  9. Sullivan, L. (Sept. 2020). How Big Oil Misled the Public into Believing Plastic Would Be Recycled. Retrieved from: https://www.npr.org/2020/09/11/897692090/how-big-oil- misled-the-public-into-believing-plastic-would-be- recycled#:~:text=On%20the%20other%20hand%2C%20new,expensive%20machinery%20has%20been%20developed.

  10. United States Environmental Protection Agency (n.d.) Learn About Aquatic Trash. Retrieved from: https://www.epa.gov/trash-free-waters/learn-about-aquatic-trash#4

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