Perhaps bottles. And maybe by now you’re
Perhaps you’ve heard of recent studies regarding where all those plasticwater bottles we’ve all sworn off of at one time or another are ultimatelyending up. Or maybe you’ve stumbled upon that cute little TED Talk in your Facebookfeed.
The cheerful yet informative illustrated short detailing the variouslife-cycles of 3 “single-use” water bottles. And maybe by now you’recurious about the potential dangers of ingesting foods, mainly of the aquaticvariety, that may contain some level of these ‘microplastics’ you’ve beenhearing about. Is there cause for concern? The jury of the scientificworld is still out but the evidence points to a serious need to address ourprolific use of the ubiquitousman-made “miracle” material and just what it means for us humans toingest the offensive substance. How do microplastics make it intoour food and on our plate? The short answer begins with one simple fact:Plastic never biodegrades. Never.
It breaks down into ever smaller piecesknown as microplastics. These tiny pieces of plastic, ranging in size from5mm down to 10 nanometers, then attract microorganisms. These microorganismsuse them as floating barges on which to grow. The subsequent leaching ofchemicals that are contained within the plastics over time due to continued UVexposure (chemicals we use for the desirable attributes that they then createwithin the polymers – flame retardancy, antimicrobialproperties, etc.) sometimes give off an odor that then tricks smaller animalsinto thinking of it as food.
Small animals get eaten by larger animals. Ittravels up the food chain until it finally makes its way onto our plates andinto our bodies. But did you know that the consumption of tainted seafood is not the onlyway in which we ingest plastics? Microparticles of plastic are evenfinding their way into our drinkingwater in the form of fibers that are far too small to effectivelyfilter out of our waste water. A quick google search of the long-term effectsof exposure to chemicals contained within plastics show them as linked to suchailments as hormone disruption, genital malformations, reduced fertility andeven cancer. With somany points of contact, it’s difficult to assess how severely humans are affectedby exposure to microplastics. Regardless, there is enough evidence available tohopefully begin to create pause within our minds. Have we gone too far into thedepths of our addiction to this miracle of modern science: this product we havecome to know and use so frequently, that has made daily life more convenientand single-serving-friendly. It is a product able to save lives asindiscriminately as it would take orend it.
Nowyou may be asking yourself, “So am I supposed to abandonplastics altogether? Is that even possible?” The trouble tends to stem, inlarge part, from the ubiquitous use of what is known as ‘single-useplastics’ in our everyday life. Single-use plastics typically refer to theshopping bags we get at markets and shops; the plastic wrapping weunceremoniously rip away from packaged goods ranging from food items,electronics, to beauty and cosmetic products; to the inexpensive plasticcontainers we get our take-away food orders neatly packaged into for us whichare then put in yet another single-use plastic bag to cart off and enjoy athome or at our desks at work. Walk not ten steps into your average grocerystore or corner convenience mart and you’ll be confronted with row upon row ofpre-packaged food goods, cleaning supplies, cosmetics and sundries allpre-packaged, wrapped, and bagged in the offensive, chemical laden, miraclepolymer. Itall seems so unavoidable and an impossible endeavor to take on. Giving upplastic in its entirety seems completely unrealistic to almost every singleperson I’ve approached with the idea. And unless you’re extremely mindful andintentional about foregoing the use of it altogether, it’s easy to overlookjust how much plastic you consume and consequently throw out on a daily basisor even on your weekly trip to market. Believe itor not, the plastic-free, zero-waste lifestyle is gaining popularity in lightof so much attention and support from various scientific communities confirmingthe presence of plastics in our food and water supply. Many municipalities areadopting ordinances banning the use of plastic bags altogether or charging theconsumer for its use rather than give it for free as a courtesy upon checkoutas it was previously done.
In December 2015, President Obama signed into lawthe Microbead-Free Waters Act which banned the production of rinse-offcosmetic products (products including toothpastes, shower gels and cleansers)containing plastic microbeads as exfoliating agents. A ban on production ofthese products in the U.S. began in July 2017, the sales of which will bebanned from July 2018 onward. Other countries participating in similar effortsinclude Canada, EU, UK, Japan, China and Korea. The spotlight of social media andgrassroots community support, along with the ever-growing mountain of evidencein support of the need for alternative options for the conscious consumerinterested in doing their part in the global effort to shrink waste and harmfulenvironmental impact, has seen the rise of a business model known as theethical supermarket. Zero-waste, low-impact grocers offering alternatives forthose looking to make the switch to a world without plastic and toxic plasticwaste.
This has led to the burgeoning partnerships of small business owners,local farming co-ops, farmers and larger chain markets working together tocreate a different kind of consumer experience in the form of supermarkets thelikes of TheFillery(Brooklyn, NY), in.gredients (Austin, TX), and Original Unverpackt (Berlin, DE). It isabsolutely clear to my mind that the global community is beginning to recognizethe severity of the harmful long-term effects of plastics on the environmentand ultimately on us. However, efforts such as these represent only the tip ofthe iceberg of steps yet to be taken in order to lessen and hopefully eliminatethe use of plastics in exchange for more sustainable and less harmfully impactfulalternatives. Ultimately,we find ourselves at the beginning of a change.
At the time of this writing, Imyself am curious to see where this newfound information will lead us. Will theupcoming findings be the information that marks the tipping point in ourperceptions of the waste we create? Will it ultimately bring the literalclosing of the gap in our collective minds between waste and the basic thingswe as humans need to survive? Things such as healthy food from healthyenvironments, and the consideration on the end-of-life of the products weconsume. A shift in perspective on waste and material goods assingle-use-here-today-throw-away-tomorrow conveniences to one of minimalist,eco-conscious/conservationist environmental harmony, maybe? A tall orderperhaps. But the dreamer in me likes to keep hoping. Time will tell, and by allaccounts, time seems to be limited.