Weekly newspaper of Three Rivers, California, and Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks

Life Without: PLASTIC



OCTOBER 2013— Cutting back on plastic is going to be a greater challenge. These days, nearly everything we consume or interact with these days is made of plastic.

I have used reusable shopping bags for many years. I’m in the habit of taking them into grocery stores. In fact, if I happen not to have my own bags, I forgo grocery shopping that day altogether.

However, I often forget the reusable bags when shopping for merchandise. That won’t be acceptable this month.

We see the evidence of plastic trash around Three Rivers with shopping bags and single-use straws, cups, bottles, and utensils littering the roadsides and other heavily trafficked areas. Single-use plastic bags represent a huge threat to the environment.

This threat is not only related to the sheer volume of them ending up in landfill, but also to the resources needed to produce, transport and (occasionally) recycle them, and the emissions resulting from these processes.

Some friends in Florida choose a different beach every weekend to clean up. The sheer volume of plastic that is washed ashore is mind-boggling.

Much of it is from other countries. More often than not, it has bite marks from sea life that mistakes it for food (thousands of marine animals and more than one million birds die each year as a result of plastic pollution).

And just because we throw plastic away doesn’t mean that it goes away. It doesn’t.

It ends up in a landfill where it doesn’t biodegrade in any meaningful timeframe, but continues to pile up, blows away, or leaches chemicals into the soil and groundwater.

I am making a commitment to reduce my plastic consumption. In addition to reusable grocery bags, I now use muslin bags for produce and bulk foods.

I packed away all my old plastic containers and now use glass storage containers, jars, and ceramic bowls to store bulk foods, leftovers, and various culinary concoctions.

I keep a set of flatware in my car and stainless steel containers for impromptu meals on the road. And I never, ever drink bottled water from a single-use bottle. I have carried my own water bottle with me for most of my adult life.

The latest scientific research has given us many good reasons to think carefully about how we use plastics. The main concern with several types of plastic is that they contain endocrine disruptors — substances that, when taken into our bodies, alter normal hormonal function. Over the past several years, scientists have been searching for answers to mysteries such as early-onset puberty, declining fertility rates, hyperactivity in kids, the obesity epidemic, and the devastating scourges of prostate cancer and breast cancer. Although multiple factors play a role in all of these conditions, one recurrent theme is the mixture of endocrine disruptors infiltrating our lives.

One of the most troubling endocrine disruptors is a common ingredient in plastic called bisphenol A (commonly called BPA). BPA is found in many drinking containers, the lining of most food and beverage cans (including soda cans), bottle caps, plastic cutlery, plastic food storage containers, toys, dental sealants, some dental composites, water pipes, eyeglass lenses, and more.

The problem is that BPA migrates from the plastic into neighboring substances such as food, water, and saliva. Centers for Disease Control studies have shown that 93 percent of the adult population has BPA present in their urine.

In addition to the potential health risks, there are many more reasons to reduce the use of plastic food containers, dishes, bottles, bags, and cutlery. Plastics consume resources that are largely nonrenewable (crude oil and natural gas), their use contributes to needless waste, and their production and degradation create pollution.

Avoiding plastics is not just a personal responsibility, it's an environmental mandate and should be as common in our global society as turning off the lights when leaving a room. There is no easy solution to the world’s plastic addiction, but I do have a new resolve and a new mantra: "No Plastic."