Is Plastic Really That Bad?

by guest blogger Emily Main, online editor, Rodale.com

I’m three days in to my plastic-free week for Rodale.com, and despite the title of this blog post, I’m not giving up yet, I promise. It’s been tough, though. Yesterday, I tallied up all the plastic items, food-related or otherwise, that I have in my life, and it was pretty eye-opening—32 items that I use on a regular basis, 30 percent of which are disposable.

Sunday, when I went grocery shopping, I couldn’t seem to avoid plastic in the meat department (I didn’t happen to visit the cheese department that day because I already had too much at home, but there, too, it seemed impossible to find organic cheeses that weren’t smothering in plastic).

That got me thinking. Is plastic really that bad of a material? There must be some reason it’s become the packaging material of choice for everything from crackers to contact lens solution. And, as it turns out, there is. Back in 1969, Coca Cola commissioned the very first life cycle analysis on packaging materials to determine whether the company should stick with its returnable glass bottles, switch over primarily to aluminum cans, or go with plastic bottles. The plastic bottles won out because, the analysis found, they used the least amount of oil and natural gas of the three alternatives. Glass is too heavy and requires more trucks to ship, and aluminum is extremely energy-intensive to manufacture.

More recently, greener factions of the wine industry have been adopting boxes (which utilize plastic bags inside a cardboard container) and ascetic cartons for the very same reasons. A company called TetraPak, who makes those cartons you buy boxed soup in, did a similar analysis comparing its 750-milliliter and 1-liter cartons (which are made of layers of plastic sandwiched between paper and foil) to equal-size glass wine bottles, and found that paperboard and plastic, though harder to recycle, were still less polluting and required fewer fossil fuels than glass.

Then there’s the overwhelming issue of food waste. One billion people go hungry every day on this planet, yet in the U.S., there are 1,400 calories of food wasted per person per day—enough to feed a single hungry person every day. That’s bad enough, and it seems as though the numbers would be even worse if we were to switch to less-airtight packaging materials. According to a 1991 issue of a journal called Food Review (the only figures I could dig up on food waste as it relates to packaging), food waste in underdeveloped and developing nations, where food packaging is minimal or nonexistent, is as high as 50 percent. In the U.S., our reliance on plastic packaging actually keeps food waste pretty low, around 3 percent, while the amount of unpackaged fresh food that’s wasted rises to between 10 and 15 percent. (Which brings up the point, if we’re wasting 1,400 calories per person per day, and that’s still somewhere between 3 to 15 percent of our total food supply, we’re producing TOO MUCH FOOD! But that’s a different rant for a different day…)

It’s an interesting dilemma. On the one hand, plastic is an energy-efficient packaging material that drastically cuts down on food waste. But on the other, it’s a heinous nuisance that endangers our health with additives like lead and hormone-disrupting BPA and phthalates, and continues to feed massive plastic wastelands like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in the Pacific Ocean that, in turn, choke birds and kill aquatic wildlife—and contaminate other edible sea creatures with toxic plasticizers. Then we eat those creatures, so those plastic toxins wind up in us. None of those factors is included the energy use/life cycle analysis.

It does seem like plastic has a place in our world. If it weren’t for plastic packaging, I don’t know that local, organic meat producers and dairy farmers would be able to ship their products to stores, and get them in front of customers who might otherwise opt for GMO-fed, antibiotic-injected animals. The only packaging alternative they have that seems to be gaining a foothold is biodegradable corn-based plastic, and that’s made from genetically modified (GMO) corn. I don’t want GMOs in my food, and I doubt any organic farmer wants to contaminate his goods with GMO-based plastics, especially if they’re biodegrading into the food!

Companies also seem too eager to overpackage everything so it will somehow seem more “sanitary.” Why is my only option for organic green peppers at the store near my house two green peppers on a paper tray wrapped in cling wrap? Why does spinach need to be packaged in a plastic bag INSIDE a plastic clamshell container? And why does Oral B need to package the replacement heads for my power toothbrush in individual plastic boxes surrounded by a…bigger plastic box? This is the absurd wastefulness that grates on my nerves, and I think this is where we as shoppers have the best chance at making a dent in plastic waste.

Even if being completely plastic free is a pipe dream, there are lots of opportunities to stop using plastic where it’s not needed. Every time I see an instance of gross overuse of plastic, I package it up and mail it back to the company that made it, along with a letter stating why I’m never using the company’s products again. Because as important as it is to reduce your use of plastic, it’s just as important to let companies know why you’re not buying their products. There’s a reason companies print their 800 numbers on the side of packages. Use them!

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37 Responses to Is Plastic Really That Bad?

  1. Crystal says:

    An interesting question, and yes plastic does have lots of useful functionality. But in the end, every piece of plastic that has ever been made is going to stay on this planet forever. It may take more planning and more time to do so, but there are better of ways of preventing food spoilage and transporting items that don’t involve plastic.

    Some inspiration: http://www.freshthemovie.com/2011/02/01/no-rubbish-ideas-rethinking-household-waste/

    Keep up the good work!

  2. Laura B. says:

    I guess that’s why local sustainability makes sense. Bring your own bottles to the dairy, own containers/wax paper to the deli?
    It looks like it’s about shipping products long distances. I guess that can make it the problem. Heck, we had an A-Treat here in Allentown for how long? So, perhaps local companies can make the switch back to glass, whereas if you choose to support Coke, (yuk) plastic it is.

  3. Jean Nick says:

    Nice discussion Emily! Perhaps you could do a post on the efficiency of plastic recycling? Granted recycling rates are currently low but recycling plastic seems to make sense, though not everyone has access to programs for any or some types of plastic. As for those zipbags many of us are so fond of: according to the Ziplock company’s Web site we can all recycle our worn out (washed and dried) Ziplock bags along with other thin plastics in the shopping bag collection bins at supermarkets.

    Ironically organic produce at the supermarket seems to be more likely to be wrapped in plastic than its chemical-laden kin is — perhaps to protect it from getting contaminated from the non-organic produce and shelves/bins where non-organic produce has been. (Or maybe it’s to make it harder to pass it off as conventional produce at the checkout.)

    Speaking as a small farmer who sells eggs and fresh chickens it would be very difficult for us to manage 50 fresh butchered and dressed chickens every week without bagging each individually to bring them to the Farmers Markets safely (even if our health inspector wouldn’t have heart failure at the very thought of no virgin plastic bags). Bio-based plastic bags might be an alternative, but I’m not convinced A) that it take less oil to grow the crops (GE crops, as Emily notes) and process them than it does to get crude petroleum to the factory to make plastic or B) that even a small percentage end up in composting facilities that can manage them: few “biodegradable” or even “compostable” bio-plastics will break down in a home compost pile, few consumers have access to an industrial compost facility, and since the bags are not clearly marked they are either picked out of the compostables before processing (as plastic) and sent to the landfill, mistakenly put in the recycling by consumers (where they have to be picked out by the sorters so they don’t contaminate the plastic recycling) and sent to the landfill, or they go straight o the landfill. And having each customer drive 20 miles each way to the farm to pick up a single chicken in her own cooler would burn vast quantities of gasoline.

    At the moment using plastic bags in certain applications (the safer types and the types that can most commonly be recycled) and encouraging our customers to actually recycle them seems like the best option available.

  4. Edgar says:

    It seems to be impossible to have safe plastics. We need hemp products.We need them now

  5. Sandi says:

    Yes, plastics are lighter and help prevent food waste – no doubt. But is food waste the main question here? It seems to me that this is an excuse that allows us to continue to use a cheaper, more convenient, less environmentally acceptable technology – and doesn’t cause us to make the difficult changes.

    There are a couple of key points here – one is that plastic doesn’t decompose and we are starting to learn how it is damaging the environment in ways we never expected (as mentioned, the Garbage Patch – but we’re now learning that there are many of these patches – and that they are possibly reducing the growth of plankton – and that could disrupt world-wide oxygen production as well as the entire food chain). The other is that plastics are primarily made of oil. Oil is not an unlimited or renewable resource. It will run out. Plastics made of grains are a possible alternative, but a short-sighted one for reasons you point out.

    People survived on this planet quite well before plastics. Plastics are now causing damage in a very real way – much like a cancer for the planet. Food waste is something that could be prevented if we just tried harder adn didn’t live in a wasteful society in the first place. If we had a food shortage here, we’d certainly learn how to stop wasting it. And might I point out that food is biodegradable.

    So which is worse – less food waste but plastic production (which will be with us forever and cause problems that we can’t even predict right now – like we couldn’t predict the garbage patches), or more food waste but decomposable packaging where all of the materials involved will go back to the earth?

    Plastics are a short-sighted solution to anything. Look forward 50, 100 or 200 years and the second option certainly looks better.

  6. Edgardo says:

    hemp makes great paper and cardboard. cellulose is good made from wood or plant fiber. We don’t need plastics, but they don’t have to be toxic, see http://hempproductsandnews.com

  7. Myra says:

    Maria, you really opened a can of worms.

    Now, I’m depressed! What did we do before the days of plastic contaianers, glass jars, cardboard boxes? Wax paper wrap will not work for liquids. Brown freezer paper will not work either. All containers have something bad in them. Everything must be “contained” somehow. Organic cotton bags leak.

    Those reusable produce bags need to be washed to prevent the next item from being contaminated.

    I do use plastic containers until they fall apart. It is heat that brings out their toxins when used for storage. Reusing a water bottle by putting it in the freezer does not do what heat does, I’ve been told. When I finally discard something, it is after I have really used it as much as possible.
    Am I just trying to ease my conscience?

    MyraSaidIt
    http://healthylivingtodayandtomorrow.blogspot.com/
    Visit me here to learn ways to have better health

  8. Jennifer says:

    Plastic can’t be recycled, it can only be downcycled. Glass and aluminum can be recycled. I think cardboard is downcycled but that one I am not 100% sure about. It’s best of course, to avoid packaging or single use items whenever possible, but when I can’t do that, I choose reuseable or truly recyclable over plastic every time.

    The transport costs may be higher but in the case of reusable items (like glass milk bottles) a totally new bottle rarely needs to be produced, whereas every half gallon of milk in a plastic jug is in a brand new jug that can’t be made from the old jugs – so in a TRUE life cycle analysis, plastic loses. The aluminum can from a soda can be recycled into a portion of the next can – but the plastic soda bottle? Nuh-uh.

  9. june says:

    I bring reusable bags to the grocery, but use plastic for the produce (that I later reuse to wrap my lunch so it doesn’t leak in my lunch bag) and plastic bags for any meat products that might contaminate my reusable bags or anything else the meat might touch in the shopping cart or in my refrigerator….
    There are good reasons for plastic bags, but I agree that some products have way too much of it, whether to make a tiny product have a larger shelf presence and be less susceptible to be ripped open or shoved in a thief’s pocket, or just to protect the item from being smashed…too many layers of plastic, like you said about the toothbrush heads…

    As for reusing…I once saw a woman on the news who washes and reuses her plastic bags, even hanging them on the clothes line to dry…I wondered what is worse, the plastic or all the water and soap she wastes, but I guess the plastic staying out of the landfill for a couple more uses? But I do doubt that her “Cling” wrap will still cling after washing…LOL!

  10. Ali B says:

    I know glass jars are not ideal, but there are people using them to take home meats and cheeses from the deli and meat department at the grocery store. read more here: http://zerowastehome.blogspot.com/2010/01/zero-waste-kitchen.html

  11. Edgardo says:

    It’s always good not to waste energy, but the major issue with plastic is that it is consumed internally when it is used to store consumibles. This is food and liquid for humans. What we take into ourselves is the worst form of pollution, whatever that may be. Also plastic just plain tastes bad. Not just bad but unhealthy. Corporations are out to make money and the government regulators are in their pockets, so we only have ourselves to trust. for more look on http://thehomeremediesreview.com/ also http://www.infowars.com/california-senate-approves-ban-on-bpa-in-plastics/ and http://www.mercola.com/nutritionplan/beginner_beverages.htm
    for the dangers of plastic bottles.

  12. Beth Terry @ My Plasticfree Life says:

    Hi. It’s true that plastic packaging weighs less than glass and that it can keep a lot of foods fresh. But at what cost? How does it make sense to grow organic food, avoiding chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and then package those foods in a material that can leach chemicals right back into it?

    Did you know that in addition to chemicals like phthalates and BPA, there are a whole host of other chemicals that are added to plastics that we don’t know about? Like, for example, antibacterial chemicals like triclosan that are often added to “food-safe” plastic containers.

    One of the biggest problems is that plastics manufacturers are not required to disclose the chemicals added to their plastics. And even the companies that purchase plastic packaging to wrap their products don’t know what chemicals are in the packaging.

    Jean, I would love for you to contact the manufacturer of the plastic packaging you use to wrap your chickens and ask for a complete list of the additives used to make the bags. I would be very surprised if you get a straight answer. Plastics companies are very secretive, according to a representative from Stonyfield yogurt that I interviewed about their packaging.

    And as for recycling, if you saw the actual recycling that goes on, you would be appalled. Nearly all of our plastic recycling is shipped to China, where environmental conditions are abysmal. Please watch this video to understand the appalling truth. It was made by a British news organization but applies to the U.S. as well.

    http://video.news.sky.com/skynews/video?videoSourceID=1246475&flashURL=feeds/skynews/latest/flash/archive01/greenbritain_china_p222.flv

  13. Dianna says:

    Based on the plethora of studies and information available about toxins which leach from plastics, such at pthalates & Bisphenol A, I refuse to eat or drink anything that has been packaged in plastic.

    These chemicals are hormone disruptors and have been linked to breast cancer, brain cancer, prostate cancer, obesity and diabetes, and other illnesses.

    While avoiding plastic is not easy to do, I have found that my families diet has shifted towards a larger amount of fresh fruits and vegetables form our local farmers markets. I need extra time at the regular market to explain and to ask for my meat, poultry and seafood to be packaged in paper without the plastic coating, but it is doable and butchers do understand my concern.

    Two of the easiest ways to get started are to bring a reusable canvas bag and a reusable non-plastic bottle every day!

  14. Dianna says:

    For info about plastic pollution and to sign the pledge to REFUSE disposable plastics, please visit:

    plasticpollutioncoalition.org

  15. Harriet says:

    Emily, we aren’t back in 1969. Back people would have laughed at you if you suggested drinking water from a bottle, energy drinks in in plastic bottles, or at all, didn’t exist nor did coke or juice in plastic, for that matter.

    According to National Geographic: “Americans buy more bottled water than any other nation in the world, around 29 billion water bottles a year using 17 million barrels of crude oil. That’s enough oil to keep a million cars going for twelve months. Imagine a water bottle filled a quarter of the way up with oil. That’s about how much oil was needed to produce the bottle.” And most of our tap water is safer than what comes out of a bottle. Unfortunately, in this country we recycle less than 30% of the plastic single use bottles we use. While plastic might be pervasive in our society, we have let it get that way and need to get it out. It’s convenient and as you stated and we have allowed it to be part of everything we do. It’s only been around though, in a big way, since the 1950′s. So we lived without it for along time..I say YES plastic really is THAT BAD!!!

  16. Thea Hollett says:

    You haven’t mentioned how plastic disrupts our hormonal system because of the xeno-estrogens that are released into the food. These xeno-estrogens are enough like estrogen to be attracted to the estrogen receptor sites, but not enough like it to actually get into the cell. So instead, the xeno-estrogens just block the entrance to the cell and real estrogen cannot enter. Lots of real hormonal problems start from that that affect that plastic has on your body.
    Plastic does not easily decompose and therefore presents us with prolonging the eyesore and the problem for almost ever.
    We bleed the Earth of her resources as if they are better used by us than what the Earth uses them for in the ground; I very much doubt that is true. Every other item on the Earth is considered bio-degradable and enhances the system that it works with and for, by that process of bio-degradabilty. Yet we choose to create a product that will never die because we don’t want to face the ‘inconvenience’ of a biodegradable, life enhancing, process that time and the Earth have proven is a constant: change, birth, death, transformation, renewal. Though we recycle plastic it is not enhancing the life system by that process. It is just prolonging the day of responsibility.
    Further, though is is not mentioned and maybe is not part of this experiment – wearing plastic is a real problem for energy healers. If I want to facilitate lasting change in the health condition of a client, it really helps if that client is not wearing any ‘plastic’ clothes. Read ‘synthetic’. The healing ability that you have within you is fastest, traveling via an energy ‘membrane’ that exists just above the skin. Though our western medicine does not recognize this, it is known in the martial arts world. When synthetic clothes are worn, this fastest method of working on ourselves is hampered. I do not know why.
    The other reason for not wearing plastic is because we are actually getting energy from light. Just like a leaf does, we receive light from the sun, moon and stars. This type of healing, understood by ancient civilizations and interpreted wrongly as sun worship – is actually because we are ‘light’ beings and light from these sources increases our own inner light. Check the sunrise energy for a few days and you will find you feel better. Star light is very good for depression and the cycles of sun, moon and star energy are all very healing when we absorb their light through at least, one complete cycle. Though this cannot be proven, I have experienced how much easier it is to hold ‘light’ when I do not wear plastic clothes and understand that the clothes hamper of stop the light absorption process. I think this is because we are absorbing light all the time in the form of photons.
    Some of the ways we are using plastic are hard to change, but it is better we focus on getting off the addiction now, than when oil has run out or plastic becomes a premium item due to scarcity. Life went on before plastic and life must be far more sustainable if we learn to live without it. The innovation and creativity of making items that enhance the environment can only increase the well being of every person on the Earth – except the oil men, and they have reaped enough profit at the Earth’s expense already!

  17. Rose says:

    Gee I must be a lot older than you because I remember going to the butcher with my Mum and the meat was wrapped in butcher’s paper. Yes that’s right folks – paper, no plastic! Several layers of it but it got walked home without going off. At home it went straight into a metal tray and was eaten that night. No she didn’t shop every day, we just didn’t have meat every night, probably only twice a week. My mother is 87 and going strong. I’m doing pretty good as well with the only surgery being a caesarian section for my first child. Got it right for the second. I get very cross with vegetables in plastic bags so I avoid buying them and have made my own bags out of tulle I rescued from the second hand shop. They are lightweight and weigh only 5 grams more than the plastic bags. They get washed when I wash my produce. Pity I can’t show a picture. I take them with my shopping bags always. We also support a local organic producer by getting his delivered vege boxes. They’re a bit pot luck, but it makes me a better cook. Buying my cheese in bulk with friends, to avoid all those little plastic packages. Just some ideas folks.

  18. claire says:

    Jean Nick, what about reusable containers for your chickens that can be returned and sanitized?

    and Laura B, I think you have it exactly right that the cost analysis is only for products shipped long distances, which is always a problem with glass packaging, reusable or not. local sustainability is definitely the way to go. and I want to point out for those that don’t know, aluminum cans also have a plastic lining in them (steel cans as well), so while the aluminum is definitely more recyclable, there’s also plastic that has to be dealt with in the recycling process, I’m not exactly sure what happens to it.

    as far as food waste goes, I personally think it’s our food overproduction and mass-distribution that causes us to be so wasteful. and I agree with the point that the food is biodegradable, but the plastic is not.

    plastic has ultimately won out because it’s cheap, waterproof and more resistant to breakage than glass. it lines our aluminum and steel cans because it prevents corrosion to the metal after prolonged exposure to moisture. it lines our frozen food boxes because it keeps the freezer from drying out the food inside the box. it can also mold to the shape of the product to reduce air exposure, ie. shrink-wrapping and vacuum-packing, which prolongs the shelf-life of the food. no one argues that it has no advantages, but are those advantages worth it in the long run? and can we limit our use of it to those things that seem to have no other viable alternative, and implement recycling that actually works so we’re not dumping it in landfills? I think reycling codes should be on every single piece of plastic made, and companies should have to disclose the ingredients that went into it. I want transparency in our manufacturing system, they want you to think they’re secretive because they want to protect their patents, but it’s really so they can keep dumping horrible things into their products and no one will know about it.

    june, I think the argument of disposables vs. reusables regarding the water and soap used is a valid one, but also a short-sighted one…

    for reusables, you need to consider the following:
    -amount of water used to wash the reusable product once (because we’re comparing it to a single use dispoable product), and the amount and method of energy used to heat the hot water.
    -the environmental effect of the production, distribution & disposal of the “soap” (in quotes because most dish soap is not actually soap) used to wash the product once– energy & resulting pollution, water usage, method of attaining source materials: mining/farming, etc., biodegradability and effects of soap ingredients on wildlife– all divided over the entire life of the package of soap.
    -the effects of the production, distribution and possible disposal (waste transport, biodegradability/recyclability, possibly energy recovery and resulting pollution, volume– if landfilled, etc.) of the reusable product, divided over the number of times it’s actually used.

    and for disposables:
    -effects of the production & distribution (including water usage) of a single disposable product
    -the effects of its disposal

    so it’s not as simple as soap and water, but I’m pretty sure the reusable product would have less of an affect, because the most energy intestive part– its production, is spread out over its entire usable life, which is not the case with the disposable.

    I found one study on this here: http://greenresearch.com/2009/07/16/reusable-vs-disposable-cups-saving-money-and-energy/

  19. Sandi says:

    Thank you ladies for all the comments supporting not using plastics! From a couple of the early comments and from this posting, I was losing hope for a moment. Now I feel better.

  20. Lorraine Kerwood says:

    My sweetie and I are trying to not introduce any new plastic in our lives. Our local grocery stores welcome glassware to put cut meat, cheese and other prepared food into. Paper bags are welcomed for bulk items like sugar, grains, nuts. We support local farmer’s markets and farm booths to buy veggies not packaged in plastic.

    We do all of this and yet, if we need to buy a medication-it is in a plastic container and the pharmacist won’t put it in an unmarked container that is child proof. Our dog’s flea ned is in a plastic sealed cardboard sled. Frankly, anything that is regulated seems to be sheathed in plastic.

    the question, “does plastic have a place” is a conundrum that we have to untangle. We need to stop using petroleum based products by the boat load-we don’t have the raw materials to support it. We also do not have the resources to recycle it-even in Oregon where recycling has become second nature to our citizens-still our commingled recycling collection is only designed to accept “bottles tubs and cans”. All the other plastic in our lives gets landfilled.

    We need to put our minds to creating a new way to move food, to preserve food, to keep things sterile. We need to noodle it big time so our children and their children have a place to call home.

  21. Myra says:

    I didn’t get to read for a few days and had to catch up. Perhaps someone made this comment and I overlooked it. I have been thinking about plastic table items: “silverware”, cups and plates (plastic or stryofoam) throw-away serving bowls.
    And then, there are disposable aluminum pans. I hope they compost, somehow.
    We have become a throw-away society with things that can’t just be thrown away.
    I told you, Maria, that you opened a can (oops) of worms.

    MyraSaidIt
    http://healthylivingtodayandtomorrow.blogspot.com/
    Visit me here to learn ways to have better health

  22. Anne says:

    Plastic is used to package a lot of products that don’t really need it. For example, I buy Yogi tea, which comes in a cardboard box with paper wrappers on the tea bags. No plastic. If Yogi tea can do it, why can’t the other tea companies? There are lots of examples like this. See http://noplasticpackaging.wordpress.com/
    These types of products are the low hanging fruit. Rather than focusing on meat and dairy, let’s start with products that are not perishable.

    Packaging from online stores also deserves attention. Displaying the product, preventing theft, and making the package “hangable”, are all uses for plastic packaging in a physical store. None of these functions are needed for a product sold online. See Amazon’s frustration-free packaging program.

  23. Kate says:

    I don’t think the inconvenience of finding items without plastic should be the reason to find an excuse for the use of plastic.

    We know the dangers of plastic throughout its life cycle. Where was the oil that produced the plastic from? Who and what was harmed in the extraction of that oil? Where was the oil transformed into plastic? Was it in ‘Cancer Alley’ in Louisiana? Or some other place far away from your backyard? When you dispose of this plastic, where does it go? Does it go to a landfill in your backyard? An incinerator? If you’ve put it in the recycling bin, where did it go? Was it shipped to China to be downcycled? Or did it stay in your community?

    I think it is easy to excuse plastic when you get to have the enjoyment of its very short usefulness and do not have to deal with the burden of its before-you life and after-you life.

    Van Jones spoke about these issues in a video from TedXGarbagePatch. The issues of plastic production, use, and disposal are issues of economic, political, and social justice. It’s not just about us, the consumers. It’s about ALL of us on all ends. Here’s a link to the video:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FjvjSlpJoqo&feature=player_embedded

    Just as growing food organically has consequences beyond the consumer, so does plastic production and disposal.

    One other thing: Curious that Coke talks about how much better plastics are, yet they still use returnable glass in Mexico and elsewhere. It’s just here, where disposal is too cheap, that they promote plastic. Is there a connection?

  24. Gretchen says:

    Thank you for this latest post. It made me feel better. The whole plastic thing weighs heavy on me every time I go shopping. It is very hard to get away from some of the plastic and I have small children and some times I feel like that makes it harder too with some of the products I purchase for them. But there is hope and I always strive to be better. I noticed a Stonyfield yogurt cup I had purchased the other day said on it ‘made from plants’. This is awesome but what do with it. It had no recycling #.

  25. Jennifer says:

    Emily, I am hoping that you will respond to these comments in a follow up post. Many readers skip the comments and a lot of valid points have been raised here that most people aren’t aware of except those of us who are already working to eradicate plastic from our lives. In the spirit of plastic-free February, I think more of this information should be brought to the attention of the public in as many venues as possible.

  26. klauso says:

    your q: …is plastic really…
    my a: …just wait, wait some more years…and i promise you that you will regret this question…
    try to get deeper into this by learning the chemical reactions…

  27. Beth Partin says:

    I’m with you. I think plastic does have a place in our world, just far too big of one. We need to work on removing chemicals from plastic packaging, developing biodegradable plastic packaging that doesn’t leach ANYTHING into our food, and on drastically reducing the use of plastic packaging in general. There are groups working on cleaning up the ocean garbage patches; you can find more information on my blog RestorationNation.org.

  28. Char says:

    Its not healthy to manufacture substances for their pros and ignore their overwhelming cons. I believe if you are going to create a tool of sorts, it needs to truly be a tool and not a partial tool / partial problem creator.

    In essence, plastic has enabled us to feed and enable a higher population over 3 decades, only to intoxicate this greater population and make the challenge of replacing plastic more challenging.

  29. A.Green says:

    Well that depends… are you a turtle, fish, whale, dolphin, seal or other marine species that gets CHOKED, STRANGLED, TRAPPED, ETC by PLASTIC??? Are you a bird who’s lifeless dead body is found on the beach full of plastic items??? Is the great pacific garbage patch suffocating your home? Is the production of plastic polluting our planet? Is the throwing away of plastic hurting our planet?

    Let’s get real here people, PLASTIC IS NO GOOD. We use it for a second then discard it for years and years and years of lying around polluting our planet and killing other species.

    So is PLASTIC really that bad? YES!

  30. klauso says:

    another hint to plastic lovers:
    in the north pacific there is a garbage/plastic stream, biger as all of europe, biger as the US, 6000 kilometer long, rotating around between california and tahiti…
    it seems nice food for fishes and birds because of the size and coulor of the plastic parts, but the animals and the mammals have of course no idea that this is not food…
    it is full of the known poisions of oil and other chemicals.

    it is contaminating not only the fishes we are eating later, it is poison to you and me and if you are a woman it will contaminate your baby…
    you maybe are well informed about the danger of plastic in general but people tend to be lazy and we all want to have an easy life…

    plastic in the oceans – enjoy your plastic soup…think and stop using plastic

    information:
    http://www.plasticoceans.net/

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XxNqzAHGXvs

    http://www.google.ch/images?hl=de&rlz=1T4GFRE_deCH332ID332&q=plastic+in+oceans&um=1&ie=UTF-8&source=univ&ei=go5VTYbSN42WOr20mOUE&sa=X&oi=image_result_group&ct=title&resnum=3&ved=0CEIQsAQwAg&biw=1181&bih=562

    http://www.whoi.edu/science/B/people/kamaral/plasticsarticle.html

    and many many more
    open your eyes-under water-there is no more clean water in your world

  31. Melissa MacLean says:

    The bottom line is that we need to use less of everything. And using more durable products for storing and transporting goods (i.e. glass or metal) means not having to replace things as frequently. So a one-to-one comparison of individual containers is probably not that relevant.

    Meanwhile, the issue with plastics as others have pointed out above has to do with their longterm (to all intents and purposes permanent) toxic effects on the entire food chain.

    In the process of eliminating or reducing our plastic use, we need to keep the big picture of reducing consumption and waste in mind. But yes, plastic itself really is that bad.

    Finally, we need to keep in mind that the plastics industry is well aware of the growing public concerns and awareness related to plastic, and are gearing up to fight back. See this item from Canada: http://www.cbc.ca/health/story/2010/11/12/mb-plastics-industry-negative-image-manitoba.html

  32. Tim says:

    We should ban all single-use plastics, as they never leave the environment once created. Plastic isn’t biodegradable, it breaks down into ever smaller bits from the sun, and further pollutes land and sea, while entering the food chain on every level.
    It is not possible to stop littering, because so many people lack the conscience to be more thoughtful about their actions.
    Therefore, in order to avert this completely unnecessary and sad and permanent scourge upon the Earth and upon all future generations, we must utilize “green” chemistry to create packaging that can be composted and which nourishes the soil with nutrients when broken down, and do not poison us with synthetic, cancer-causing hormones.
    Imagine what hope for the future we would have!

  33. Emily Main says:

    Hi everyone,
    Thanks for the thoughtful comments! It’s always great to get a lively debate going. It’s been a busy week here at Rodale.com, and as you may have noticed, we had some technical difficulties earlier this week. But I’ve posted another blog on our Plastic free page (http://www.rodale.com/plastic-free) that hopefully addressed as many comments as I could.
    Emily

  34. Paul Sharp says:

    I believe the 1969 Coke studies comparing glass to plastic were based on a “single trip” bottle.. The study was designed to support further dismantling of refillable bottle deposits and pave the way higher profits for Cokes bottle making operations.
    Can anyone confirm this?

    Glass when used in a well managed refillable container system is much more efficient. Each bottle gets used a minimum of 15 times reducing litter and landfill. Reclaiming and reusing a glass bottle locally can use less fossil fuels than producing 15-20 PET bottles.

  35. Jane Duggan says:

    @Paul. I would really like to know more about that Coke study. And about this whole issue in general, as it keeps being mentioned to me by people skeptical about the no-plastic argument. I have searched (but maybe not enough) for a reliable comparison of the full lifecylcle costs to the environment of glass vs plastic, in its various guises. Much of the glass available to me is not actually re-used, but goes to recycling, so I’d like to understand how that fits in. I totally get the point about the toxicity of plastic and about the need to reduce waste and packaging overall, in all forms. But these other question do need to be answered. Can anyone point in the direction of such research?

  36. Myra says:

    Harriet:
    RE: regarding a statement that you made regarding the safety of tap water being better than that of bottled water. In 15 years, I have lived in three different towns. Every single time that I have given up and drank the tap water , I have become sick after only two-three days.
    I will not drink, nor cook with tap water. The flouride that they put into the tap water is a rat poison ingredient.

    Beth and Tim:
    You both mentioned the biodegradable aspect of plastics. You might be interested in a short article found in Mother Earth News, June-July issue, 2010, pg 17, written by Cheryl Long. It is titled “The Truth About ‘Biodegradable’ Plastics”.
    She stated that most of the claims that companies made that their plastic products were 100% compostable were misleading, at best. She said that the full report from Woods End Laboratories can be found, with her article, at MotherEarthNews.com

    MyraSaidIt

    http://healthylivingtodayandtomorrow.blogspot.com/
    Visit me here to learn ways to have better health

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