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Those Pesky Plastics

Plastic pollution has been getting a lot of press lately. And for good reason.



We often don't think about plastics after the garbage truck picks up our trash cans.

Plastics. Such a heated debate. Many might say a necessary evil. Plastics make a lot of modern life easier, cleaner, and safer. The downside is, well, nothing short of tragic. It's a classic double-edged sword. The above picture probably elicits vivid memories in most of you. Most of us have come across such a nasty site as this. I've seen it everywhere from the mountains of Montana and Idaho, to fishing a deserted Caribbean shoreline. No matter where I come across a sight like this, or even one piece of garbage tossed out of a car window along the roadside, I can't help but feel literal pain.


The US is said to be sometimes the second, sometimes the third largest plastic producer... and her numbers are scary. The average American uses 12 oz of plastic.. EVERY SINGLE DAY! The EPA stated that the US alone produced well over 35 million tons of plastic waste in 2017. www.plasticpollution.org also indicates that the problem is only getting worse. As a nation, the US is not embracing the plastic problem. In 2018, Recycling rates dropped while production of plastics went up. To make stateside matters worse, China is no longer accepting US plastic waste. Really dwell on these numbers as you imagine one plastic bottle taking around 1,000 years to decompose in a landfill. This is no laughing matter.


Plastic cups after an event.

According to the Ocean Cleanup, there are already over 5 trillion pieces of plastic in the ocean today, not to mention the staggering amount in landfills, littering the landscape, and in our river systems. Business Insider states that the Pacific Garbage Patch alone is twice the size of Texas... a statistic that is just staggering and disgusting.


There is hope though. The Ocean Cleanup has developed passive process which employ the powers of nature to push garbage into collection sites which is then removed by vessel. To date, they've launched multiple ocean projects and have also forayed into river systems. This cleanup effort has now become the larges cleanup effort in history which is why we choose to back them. Something must be done. It has to be drastic. They are doing it. We will give them our support.


The Ocean Cleanup project in action.

The Ocean Cleanup isn't the only company dedicated to this effort. Countless others, such as Parley working in the Dominican Republic, are doing their part too. The Caribbean Islands are the world's biggest plastic polluters per capita. Parley (and other smaller organizations) are hard at work addressing the problem. The Surfrider Foundation is another interest group hard at work protecting our waters and their inhabitants. If you care about the environment, about water.... which I can't imagine you don't otherwise you wouldn't be here reading this... choose one. Donate. Everything helps.


While these foundations and organizations are so very necessary for fast-tracking a major problem, they can't do it alone. How long have we heard the maxim, "Reduce, reuse, recycle?" I started school in the the 1980's and I feel like I've heard it since then. It was novel. It was interesting. It's now imperative. I cannot, for the life of me, see how we have taken in all the information, the statistics, and remained so passive on the subject. I am not a "dooms-day-er" or a prophet or a even a "prepper." I am not saying the world is going to hell in a hand-basket. I believe that we are a brilliant race. I believe that we are capable of change and adaptation and simply figuring things out. I cannot, however, in all honesty just sit back and keep contributing to the buildup of such a ghastly and massive phenomenon.


Plastics are necessary (for now). They are helpful. They aren't going anywhere soon. We can, however, adjust how we think about them. Conjure up your grade school self. Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. In that order. And then think about some other options listed below.



Reduction in plastic use is the best overall solution. Buy things that aren't packaged in plastic if you can. Bring reusable bags to the grocery store. If you forget your bags, go for paper over plastic and still recycle them. Paper is easily recyclable. It also breaks down in the environment much, much faster than plastic.


Reuse... Re-purpose. Get more than one use out of your plastic items. This dramatically cuts the number of plastic items that need to be bought or even made in the first place.


Recycle. This is the third best option. While demand for new plastics is still high, many companies are learning that using recycled plastics in their production is good for business and the environment. Items made from 100% recycled plastic is the best option. This is not an end-all solution for keeping plastics from polluting but it's a tremendous advantage over letting them end up in the landfill. I'm still amazed that small/rural places continue opt out of plastic recycling programs. There really is no such thing as isolation anymore. We are a global community. Reduce, reuse, then recycle...in that order.


Green Plastics


Image from the webstaurantstore.com

Green plastics are being marketed to us in tremendous fashion. I've seen fly shops adopt green plastics into their operation through bioplastic fly pucks and water bottles for clients. This is all really great but let's look deeper. While intentions may be good, you can't always just buy into the hype. While this is a much better solution than simply dumping plastics in the garbage, we need to do our due diligence here too. Bio plastics sound great. Some of them are. But as with everything, while intentions may be good (or maybe not), labeling can be deceiving. We cannot just take marketing at face value.


Check out this write-up from EcoEnclose (www.ecoenclose.com...a note on EcoEnclose. They are a retailer of green shipping products and choose not to use boiplastics at this time. So just read their thoughts below and formulate your own opinions. Downstreamwear is not using bioplastics at this time, but we are always doing research, testing, and formulating our own opinions. We prefer reducing need, using recycled products, and recycling plastics for now. We prefer recycled eco cardboard boxes that can be recycled again and can compost quickly. We may find the right bioplastic in the future):


"With 19 million tons of bioplastics produced annually, interest around this material is growing substantially. Bioplastic is a broad term, typically used to describe any plastic that is made from 20 percent or more of renewable materials derived from biological sources, such as corn, sugarcane, potato starch or the cellulose from trees and straw. In fact, biopplastic can also be used to describe a material that is made with traditional petroleum and is biodegradable.


"This broad usage of the term “bioplastics” has led to tremendous confusion and misguidance on when, why and how to use bioplastic.


"When asking whether or not your company should embrace bioplastic packaging, you’ll want to take the line of questioning a few steps farther: What kind of bioplastic are you exploring (renewable and recyclable, renewable and compostable, nonrenewable and compostable?) and “to what end"?


"Often, people assume bioplastic is the way to solve the challenge of plastic existing "forever" in landfills and/or our tragic marine plastic pollution crisis. Unfortunately that is not the case, because the vast majority of bioplastic will not biodegrade in ocean and/or landfill environments, and instead, behaves just like traditional plastic. Eliminating litter (and improving waste management) in developing nations and creating stronger markets for recycled plastic are important next steps. 


"Bioplastic, compostable solutions have an important place in the world of single-use packaging, specifically in the world of food packaging. Why? Because, over time, this type of packaging can encourage more and more food to be composted, which is the ideal end of life scenario for food that would otherwise be landfill-bound.


"When it comes to ecommerce packaging, EcoEnclose believes that bioplastic is not the silver bullet solution. Instead, packaging made with as much recycled content as possible and that are as easily recyclable as possible are preferred. This is because of the high likelihood that bioplastic packaging will be sent to the landfill (or even worse, will contaminate recycling or compost streams) and because it is made with 100% virgin material (and therefore offers no solution to the challenge of what to do with our existing plastic waste). 


"When the functional and cost benefits of plastic are needed, use 100 percent recycled plastic. When this is not the case and you are focused on optimal end-of-life - 100 percent recycled paper can be a great solution.


"Most importantly, when it comes to sustainable packaging materials, be a thoughtful buyer. As this white paper illustrates, the world of bioplastic is complex and confusing, and largely unregulated in terms of what companies are allowed to say on their products. If you see bioplastic packaging that claims to be recycled, recyclable, and biodegradable, ask the supplier lots of questions. There is a high probability that these claims are untrue, or are at least unverifiable.


"Ask for:

  1. A breakdown of source materials in the packaging

  2. Exact percentage of material in the packaging that is recycled

  3. What makes the material biodegradable

  4. Any certifications related to biodegradability or compostability they can share

  5. Any verification related to the recyclability of the material they can share

  6. Information on where the raw material and final packaging is manufactured

  7. If you don’t get answers to the above, proceed with caution. Be thoughtful about how you present this packaging to your customers, so you don’t mislead them or cause them to dispose of this packaging irresponsibly."



In summary, plastics are helpful and (for now) necessary. We all need to become more aware of their use and their environmental impact. Again, I have traveled near and far and seen the dark side of plastic use and mismanagement. We have options in how we shoulder the individual responsibility, but said responsibility cannot be ignored anymore. It's time to act. It's great that a lot of things in the plastic world are getting press and attention...like plastic straws and sea turtles, or the bioplastic idea, etc. It's time to get informed and make sure your personal and business consumption are kept in check, that we are more mindful in our use of plastics, and that we intentionally choose a path to help the situation and not just set back and let it be someone else's problem. It's our problem. You, me, and them.


Thanks for your time. As always, feel free to post or email your comments, questions, and concerns.


Cheers,


-N

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