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Chatterbox: A menace too profitable and convenient


This morning, for some reason, I got up a bit earlier than usual.

In the kitchen, as my daughter prepped lunches and got breakfast ready for her two sons, we commiserated about the food packaging … all the plastic. It was the same conversation I had yesterday in the super market with the fellow behind me in line. He commiserated too.

Too many of us have grown complacent about, and blind to, the ubiquity of plastic. Of course, that’s only in its use. Its health consequences are obvious and very much with us every day.

This product, in its various compositions, was sought after and phenomenally valuable for uses in World War II, such as plane cockpits, but it crept into home life and began the “shatterproof” product market very quickly. It now wraps so much, we don’t even realize it.

I started clocking my plastic day: toothpaste tube, toothbrush, shampoo and conditioner bottles, hairbrush, hair dryer, deodorant and powder containers, my cell phone, makeup containers, make-up bag … it went rogue nearly instantly. I wasn’t even dressed yet: spandex, polyester, man-made uppers (shoes, not teeth), and what we now call vegan leather.

Downstairs it got really scary with all the food packaging, even all the organic stuff – an oxymoron to say the least. Where waxed cardboard worked beautifully, we now have cartons of milk lined with plastic. Cans of food are lined with plastic too. What made anyone think we needed that?

The carcinogens leach into all the foods, and manufacturers knew that from the start. My friend’s father was on the ground floor of plastic beverage containers. He told her nearly 50 years ago to never eat or drink anything from plastic.

Some foods are worse than others, absorbing carcinogens while breaking down the plastic lining the whole time they’re canned. Worst are the acidic foods like tomato products, but canned soup takes the lead, according to a study covered by CNN Health. Reductions of BPA are good, but we can help ourselves best by “choosing fresh unpackaged foods whenever possible,” says Jennifer Hartle, a postdoctoral scholar at Stanford, who was part of a five-year study on the topic of BPA and plastic packaging.

Back in my kitchen I faced the housing of my coffee machine, and plastic bags, bags, bags – despite how we try. They wrap our cereal, bread, even mozzarella (my ancestors would be outraged). The day was only a half-hour old.

We didn’t choose this, but we’re tolerating it. How do we reverse it? The answer is legislation, but that’s a very sticky wicket. The global market for plastic products, with profits of a shocking projected worth of 1.2 trillion (yes, that’s a T) dollars in 2020, is over half American.

No wonder plastic people fight so hard despite its deadly risk to Earth and living things. Those responsible for making this stuff are not held responsible for its safe disposal, which should be strictly enforced and non-negotiable. Worse, this stuff really has no safe disposal. Disintegration only leaves micro-particles everywhere. Reusing it simply leaves us with non-biodegradable see-saws instead of soda bottles.

Many things that used to be made of biodegradables like metal are now plastic. They, and new plastic items, could be made just as well, possibly better, from more planet friendly materials. Plastic does have specific properties but few make it universally better than its early competitors; it just has better promoters. Though even the medical industry used sterilized glass before so much plastic, we agree we couldn’t go completely plastic free especially there but, despite the 2020 market being a trillion dollars powerful, other nations have cut back and we must too.

In 2015, Germany’s recycling rate was clocked at 79 percent. America could follow that example barring industry influence on legislators. Also, despite the fact that we all know recycling has always been a red herring, with any plastic deemed essential, we must recycle as much of it as possible, strengthen regulations, increase fines and administer non-negotiable jail time for offenders.

Tool handles, door pulls, hinges, drink cups, staple guns, even coffee stirrers used for six seconds, all lie in our landfills for an estimated 200 years (wooden stirrers must be resourced, that’s true, but they are actually compostable). We can look to other countries who are successfully tackling the problem; we can return to some of our own old packaging, and we can employ innovative new types as well.

Plastic is convenient, but it’s a menace only worth its damage to its profiteers.