Monday, September 17, 2007

Are We A Disposable Society?

Knowledge is power, right? After all, it gave us all of this useful technology like plastic wrap, Tupperware, drinking bottles, and bags of just about every size. However, when I started to do a little research about all of this plastic -and what happens to it once I am done using it- I found that it was time to take a hard look at our society's plastic consumption. Here are a few facts about plastic:

  • According to the Container Recycling Institute, less than 30% of plastic bottles were recycled in 2006.
  • Plastic does not biodegrade.
  • Instead, it photodegrades from exposure to sunlight (not much of that in landfills) and becomes smaller and smaller pieces of plastic, which remain in the ecosystem.
  • Disturbing amounts of plastic are now being found in the ocean. There is a section of the Pacific known as "Eastern Garbage Patch" because it contains so much plastic.
  • The manufacturing and transportation process of one bottle of water uses ¼ gallon of fossil fuel and emits 1.2 pounds of greenhouse gases.
  • Nearly seven times the amount of water that goes into a bottled product will be required to produce its plastic container.
Okay, I'm convinced. Plastic may be necessary, but certainly the less I consume each day, the better off we'll all be. In order to curb my plastic consumption, I decided to start with something easy - my bottled water and plastic bag use. Both of these products are consumed in the United States in the millions (bottled water) and billions (plastic bags) every year.

Fortunately, the solution to the bag quandary is easy:

Bring your own!

Reusablebags.com and envirosax.com both make bags that are fashionable and compact. Reusablebags even makes produce bags, which really come in handy when you are tempted to take a bag to hold that wet head of lettuce or four round (and rolling!) tomatoes.

Now on to plastic water bottles. In order to help illustrate my point about how our individual actions can make a difference (cliche but true), I will digress with a short (but true) story:

I was recently playing basketball with a bunch of my basketball buddies, and one of them brought out several bottles of designer bottled water - you know the type - square bottle, expensive, comes from a land far far away. I pointed out to him that the water he was drinking had to go a long way in order to wet his whistle in Bedford, NY. In an earnest effort to cut down on the travel time of his bottle of water, he showed up to the next game with a bottle of water from his home state. I pointed out that while he had dealt with the travel issue of the last bottle, he was still drinking water from a receptacle that took precious resources to produce - electricity, petroleum, water - and that he could have easily brought water from home (for free!). It turns out that the third time was the charm. At the third water/basketball summit meeting, my friend showed up with a big reusable bottle of water. His big complaint about his water from home was the taste, and I recommended that he purchase a filter. I also pointed out that many brands of bottled water are tap water. For more on the bottled water fiasco, check out this month's National Resources Defense Council online article, "The Future of Drinking Water."

So please, by all means, hydrate. For water on the go, buy a reusable water bottle or two and use that instead. If you live in a place with safe drinking water, and I bet most of you do, fill it with tap water (filtered as necessary) and enjoy.

So why this sudden obsession with plastic? Well, the bottom line is that we are running out of room and resources on this planet. The products we consume and then turn into garbage do not really just go away, but rather they continue to reside with us in this limited space we all share. Many of them will still reside here long after we are gone. In order to reduce our waste, we have to take a critical and honest look at our consumption.

Once you see how easy it is to curb your plastic bottle and bag consumption, you will probably want to figure out ways to put even less in the landfill. Check out this list from Coop America of the "21 Things You Didn't Know You Can Recycle."

Go ahead, consume less, reuse and recycle more, and dispose of as little as possible.

1 comment:

laurens said...

When you fly, it's a good idea to have water with you on the plane so you can stay hydrated. Because you can't take a bottle of water through security at an airport, lots of people end up buying bottled water once they're through security. What I do is carry an empty Nalgene bottle with me. They always let it through security. Then, on the other side, I fill it up at a water fountain. That way I can carry water onto the plane and I don't have to buy the expensive and wasteful bottled water.