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Is Plastic Really That Bad?

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Is Plastic Really That Bad?

Guest blogger Emily Main, Online Editor,†

Iím three days in to my†plastic-free week for, and despite the title of this blog post, Iím not giving up yet, I promise. Itís been tough, though. Yesterday, I tallied up all the plastic items, food-related or otherwise, that I have in my life, and it was pretty eye-openingó32 items that I use on a regular basis, 30 percent of which are disposable.

Sunday, when I went grocery shopping, I couldnít seem to avoid plastic in the meat department (I didnít happen to visit the cheese department that day because I already had too much at home, but there, too, it seemed impossible to find organic cheeses that werenít smothering in plastic).

That got me thinking. Is plastic really that bad of a material? There must be some reason itís become the packaging material of choice for everything from crackers to contact lens solution. And, as it turns out, there is. Back in 1969, Coca Cola commissioned the very first life cycle analysis on packaging materials to determine whether the company should stick with its returnable glass bottles, switch over primarily to aluminum cans, or go with plastic bottles. The plastic bottles won out because, the analysis found, they used the least amount of oil and natural gas of the three alternatives. Glass is too heavy and requires more trucks to ship, and aluminum is extremely energy-intensive to manufacture.

More recently, greener factions of the wine industry have been adopting boxes (which utilize plastic bags inside a cardboard container) and ascetic cartons for the very same reasons. A company called TetraPak, who makes those cartons you buy boxed soup in, did a similar analysis comparing its 750-milliliter and 1-liter cartons (which are made of layers of plastic sandwiched between paper and foil) to equal-size glass wine bottles, and found that paperboard and plastic, though harder to recycle, were still less polluting and required fewer fossil fuels than glass.

Then thereís the overwhelming issue of†food waste. One billion people go hungry every day on this planet, yet in the U.S., there are†1,400 calories of food wasted per person per dayóenough to feed a single hungry person every day. Thatís bad enough, and it seems as though the numbers would be even worse if we were to switch to less-airtight packaging materials. According to a 1991 issue of a journal called†Food Review (the only figures I could dig up on food waste as it relates to packaging), food waste in underdeveloped and developing nations, where food packaging is minimal or nonexistent, is as high as 50 percent. In the U.S., our reliance on plastic packaging actually keeps food waste pretty low, around 3 percent, while the amount of unpackaged fresh food thatís wasted rises to between 10 and 15 percent. (Which brings up the point, if weíre wasting 1,400 calories per person per day, and thatís still somewhere between 3 to 15 percent of our total food supply, weíre producing TOO MUCH FOOD! But thatís a different rant for a different dayÖ)

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Read more: General Health, Green, Green Kitchen Tips, Home, Maria's Farm Country Kitchen, Nature & Wildlife, Reduce, Recycle & Reuse, , , , , , ,

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12:54PM PDT on Apr 2, 2011

Plastic is a necessary disposable "evil". At home I limit the storage of goods and edibles to glass.

12:39PM PDT on Mar 18, 2011

i think it's the disposable plastics - use once and toss - that cause most of the problems, and that most people don't recycle them and many end up in our environment and eventually the oceans.

1:28PM PDT on Mar 13, 2011

Kind of an interesting way to look at things.

1:43AM PST on Mar 2, 2011

Thanks for sharing

2:19AM PST on Feb 25, 2011


5:22AM PST on Feb 24, 2011

Thanks for sharing~

10:33PM PST on Feb 22, 2011

Excellent article! I reduce plastics were I can, AND try and buy local but I also try to not to stress too much about using some. :)

6:48PM PST on Feb 22, 2011

Thanks for the article

4:48PM PST on Feb 22, 2011

plastic is precious like a rare group blood, so we should use it with respect as sparingly as possible for only emergencies and life saving. Father of plastic belongs in deeper layers of earth, digging it should come with great explanation, next step it should be used for things like artificial heart valves and stuff in those lines.

2:35AM PST on Feb 22, 2011

The higher modernization a country or people get, the more disposable things become. In a third world country, where needing water containers is almost a necessity, the plastic bottles wouldn't be wasted so much. With the ease of recycling in this country, there is no reason why so much is being wasted.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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