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Me vs. Plastic
I feel like I need a support group for a psychological condition: PBGS, also known as Plastic Bag Guilt Syndrome. Like everybody else in the world, I bought some mesh bags for groceries. But sometimes, I forget them at home. Other times, I buy too many groceries and have to take a few plastic bags from the store. I keep those in order to recycle or reuse them. But if I, say, scoop up dog poop with the bag, is that really reusing? I’m only reusing it once.
And what about the little baggies for sandwiches? After I use those, I wash them out with soap and water, but it’s hard to dry them. I worry about bacteria and mould, not to mention the smell of onions. This is horrible... but a few times, in secret, I have thrown out a plastic bag—just not to have to look at it anymore.
My PBGS is related to a larger problem: GPGS or General Plastic Guilt Syndrome, which strikes every night as I walk through my living room, picking up plastic trucks and Legos, not to mention scattered abandoned plastic cups and plates. Am I destroying the planet? Am I poisoning my family?
Hence my call to Susan Freinkel, author of the new book Plastic: A Toxic Love Story. “Look,” she said. “The problem isn’t plastic in general. Plastic goes in vital things like MRI machines and car seats. The problem is is single use items, stuff you used once and throw out. In 1960, the average American consumed 30 pounds of plastic a year. Now, we each consume about 300 pounds a year.”
Which is the problem. I should feel bad! I’m like a plastic Pac Man. After the jump, Freinkel’s 5 Strategies for Feeling Less Guilty—or even a little ecologically smug.
1. Avoid More Than BPA. Just about everybody knows that this chemical can leach from the hard plastic polycarbonate (one of many plastics marked recycling #7) and from the epoxy linings of tin cans. But there are a variety of chemicals that can leach or off-gas from plastics: for example, the soft, flexible form of vinyl—as in shower curtains or tubing and marked as recycling number 3—can leach a chemical called DEHP. Foam upholstery can leach fire retardants; a new plastic used in baby bottles, PES, can leach a chemical relative of BPA. If an object isn't marked -- and those numbers are used mainly in packaging -- investigate it.
2. Carry Your Own Cutlery. Many of us try to limit our use of plastic bags and cups and plates. But what about utensils and straws? Make yourself a to-go kit with cutlery and a stainless steel straw.
3. Supersize It. The more food, the less packaging. Buy jumbo-sized packs or a large juice instead of small individual bottles. Try the serve-yourself bulk grains, pasta and cereal. Yes, to create single-serving sizes, you'll have to pour the contents into small, reusable plastic containers (but the key is "reusable").
4. Call Your Local Dump. A lot of single-use cups and plates seem eco-friendly because they are compostable, but your city or county may not be nearly as green as you are. If your municipality doesn't do industrial composting, those products most likely go straight to the landfill. With that information, you might chose not to use the disposable stuff.
5. Strike Anywhere. Single-use lighters are a crazy waste of plastic. The leading manufacturer makes 5 million a year. Use a match instead. Or an old-fashioned Zippo.
6. Hold the Dry Cleaning Bag. This is a two-fold winner—nobody puts a bag over their head, and you refuse your plastic consumption. You may have to talk to your dry cleaner about this, when you're dropping off your clothes, to guarantee that they'll be bag-free when you pick them up. Otherwise, the cleaner may just rip off the bag that's already there....which is so depressing.
7. DIY Your Lifestyle. You might try concocting your own mustard, mayonnaise, or ketchup. Again, the idea is to put the fruits of your efforts into a reusable container. Some people, Freinkel says, even make their own shampoo and deodorant. “Though, let’s face it, that’s a little hardcore.”