why is plastic so bad?


From all the details about plastic grocery bags that take 500 years to decompose to stories of toxic chemicals like BPA and phthalates and VOCs, plastics are the environmental bad guy. We’ve all seen the photos of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and the impact plastics have on wildlife. There is no denying that plastic is bad. But just how bad is it?

Let’s start at the very beginning. Most plastic is made from fossil fuels like oil and natural gas. Which means toxins are released into the environment when the raw materials are extracted from the earth, yes, even natural gas. The manufacturing process itself involves additional chemicals, industrial waste and lots of water. 

Let’s skip over the problems of packaging and transportation and go straight to the consumer. Chemicals in plastics do leech out, and are absorbed by humans. Some of these chemicals impact endocrine levels, which can lower testosterone, decrease sperm count, and worsen allergy and asthma symptoms.

For many plastics, there is no available recycling method, so they will be thrown into landfills, burned, or worse, wind up clogging waterways.

Plastic debris is often eaten by wildlife, even setting aside the chemical factor, many animals simply cannot process and pass the plastics. Floating plastic debris disrupts wildlife habitats, and plastics buried in landfills can leech harmful chemicals into ground water (even through landfill liners.)

Sure, there are arguments to be made that certain types of plastic aren’t really evil incarnate, and we’d be inclined to agree. Going completely plastic-free sounds great, but is very difficult to achieve. A more realistic approach is to evaluate the types of plastics you have in your life and determine which ones you can reduce or eliminate by swapping out for better alternatives.

In the plastics arena, things are always changing. Unless you plan to go completely plastic free, your best bet is to stay informed, choose products that are made from recycled materials, and that are themselves recyclable, and then follow up on it. Don’t trash your plastics, find a way to keep plastics out of the waste stream. Evaluate what’s available and go for the healthiest, greenest choice. If we all were to take just those simple steps, it would send a huge message to manufacturers and an even bigger impact on our environment.

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