Zionsville Times Sentinel

October 11, 2012

From field to oceans, plastic is everywhere

By Lynn Jenkins/Times Sentinel columnist

— OK, I admit it … I judge fellow shoppers. Do you? Do you check them out at the check out? Do you scrutinize their food choices, toy choices, clothes choices and quietly grade them?

It’s an automatic reaction with me since I strongly support buying seasonal, local and organic foods and educational and durable toys that are not made in China. I can’t help but wonder why others don’t see the benefits of these choices. As for clothing, I enjoy the thrill of the hunt at Goodwill, and since I’m not much of a fashionista, so I don’t make any fashion calls. Nonetheless, these daily choices affect not only the buyer, but every one of us.

When I fall short of my own standards, I quietly scold myself and promise to do better next trip. However, one thing I never give myself a pass on is the use of disposable or single use plastic. Never.

Plastic is forever. Even after breaking down, it’s not “gone”— it just becomes tiny toxic chemical particles in the soil and air. In the end, animals eat them, we breathe them and they contaminate the food chain. Researchers have found chemicals from plastics in human tissue and even in the bloodstream of newborns, indicating a passage of chemicals in utero.

Single use and disposable plastics are the biggest source of plastic pollution. Plastic bags, bottles, plastic utensils, cups/lids/straws are momentary conveniences that are costing us in both human and environmental health. Water/drink bottles and plastic bags are the worst offenders, if only because there are trillions cramming and contaminating the earth.

Imagine the Zionsville Eagles’ football field blanketed with plastic bottles. (It’s OK to picture the Colts’ field here if you prefer.) Now put eight fields side by side all crammed with plastic bottles — about two million bottles according to the Plastic Pollution Coalition (www.plasticpollutioncoalition.org). That is how many plastic bottles Americans discard every five minutes. What waste and degradation.

The solution is not recycling. Even with the upswing in recycling, plastic has become a serious contamination problem, including the Great Pacific Garbage Dump (mostly plastic) that is the size of Texas in the middle of the ocean. If you’re not familiar with it, just Google it and be dismayed at how we are trashing our oceans with plastic.

Answers remain relatively simple: stop buying single-use plastic. Stop buying plastic disposable water and soft drinks bottles. Stop using plastic bags. Fifty years ago, we survived quite well without them and we can do so again. Here are two easy ways to make a difference.

Use refillable water bottles instead of plastic. Use a glass or stainless steel reusable bottle and refill rather than using and tossing plastic bottles. Never refill or reuse disposable plastic bottles — the chemicals can leach into the water. Remember that recycling is not as efficient or clean as reusing. Even if 100 percent of plastics were recycled, there is tremendous chemical and oil-based energy used for recycling. Avoid it by choosing refillable bottles or buying drinks in cans or bottles. Savings to your health, the environment and your wallet will balance the minor inconvenience.

As for plastic bags, there is hardly ever a reason to accept them. Keep a few canvas bags in your car. I stash my reusable bags in a small wire storage cube that sits conveniently in the back seat. As you exit the car, you will learn to ask yourself if you need a bag. It becomes a simple habit that makes a huge difference.

The Plastic Pollution Coalition has many more alarming facts and several useful ideas on avoiding plastic. They also propose an addition to the three R’s of “reduce, reuse and recycle.” Refuse disposable plastics. Say no to plastic.

After conquering the plastic bottle and plastic bags, you can tackle the issues of plastic straws, plastic utensils, plastic cups and more. It is really quite an easy attitude to learn, and it makes an unquestionable difference in our health and environment. Try it and let me know how you succeeded in eliminating plastic in your life.

Lynn Jenkins is a Zionsville resident and member of ZIGG, Zionsville Initiative to Go Green. Email her at LJenks@tds.net.