Plastic: It’s what’s for dinner

Green Living — By on March 1, 2009 11:50 AM

By Alix Shutello
I can no longer look at a plastic bags, plastic wrap, plastic bottles, or any other plastic products that we use and discard regularly without getting a pit at the bottom of my stomach.  Why?  
I will eventually end up eating it.
In January, 2009, The Washington Post mentioned that Fairfax County, VA may consider banning the use of plastic bags at stores like Walmart and Target. I was very excited by this news; only to learn that a bill, introduced by Del. Joseph Morrissey, D-Henrico, was immediately pushed under the rug after the plastics industry lobbied hard to squander the  bill later that month.
Morrissey had proposed a plastic-bag ban after seeing how Ireland reduced its plastic-bag consumption by 90 percent when it taxed each bag.  In San Francisco, the city’s Board of Supervisors approved legislation to outlaw plastic checkout bags at large supermarkets in and large chain pharmacies in about a year.  This is totally reasonable.  We throw away millions upon millions of plastic bags each year and while it took me a long time to develop the habit, I never go to the store without my reusable bags. It’s the least I can do to reduce waste.
The Post story prompted me to do a little research on plastic bag use and what I found was discouraging and disgusting.  For over a decade – let me repeat this – for over a decade, there have been reports about a plastic stew of junk floating in our oceans. It started when a sailor had sailed into miles and miles of garbage muck, floating just below the surface, in the middle of the ocean, hundreds of miles off the coast of California and just south of the Hawaiian Islands.
The stew, a compilation of everything from plastic bags, to toothbrushes, kayaks, plastic dolls and other garbage is still floating in the Atlantic Ocean as one gigantic island, larger than the state of Texas. The mass is so big and so viscous that birds and fish mistake what they see for food and they eat the plastic.
And so do we.
The issue of plastics in our oceans, however, goes beyond looking at photos like the one on my blog ( of a turtle eating a plastic bag.  Plastic nurdles, or small plastic pieces about the size of your pinky fingernail, are found in the trillions in the oceans. These byproducts of plastics production of plastic bags and other plastic produces act like little sponges; they soak up all the toxins and other chemical waste that also ends up in our oceans from illegal dumping practices and spills.  The nurdles break down; are ingested by all sorts of small creatures in the food chain, and like in Rachel Carson’s day (US Biologist remembered for her opposition to the use of pesticides), when she warned about how terrestrial animals and ultimately humans are digesting chemicals like DDT, we are eating the very toxins and plastic residue that are digested up the food chain from our oceans. Nice, eh?
Time magazine reported in Is Your Fish Really Foul? (2001) that “Fish are like sponges…[T]hey are highly susceptible to absorbing contaminants in water.” In addition, “fatty fish like salmon, bluefish and herring are vulnerable to…chlorinated compounds such as PCBs, dioxins and DDT, which once consumed linger in the body for years.”  So when I read that plastic pieces were found in the stomachs of sushi fish I was disgusted enough to quit fish; at least for a few weeks; until I could bear the thought of eating it again.
I made myself a promise this year – that if there is ever an environmental or activist-like activity I participate in, it will be on this plastics issue. Not only is plastic made out of petroleum, a product we in America are trying to wean ourselves from, but I am sickened by what I am feeding myself and my children. Fish is supposed to be a great source of vitamins, minerals and fat; a food that unlike beef or other meat production, uses minimal water resources.  Fish is supposed to be the answer to reducing resources and eating healthy, not the source of poison.
Do unto others? We have poisoned the environment and it’s throwing it right back at us.
Some companies are setting an example.  Whole Foods Market set a precedent and no longer offers plastic bags.  And while paper bag use is another environmental issue all together, Whole Foods made a choice in the paper or plastics debate – a choice of  the lesser of two evils. 
When I looked around at the super market and in my own kitchen, the product I found most predominantly was plastic.  From the Tupperware to the plastic plates and cups my kids use, from the wrapping on almost everything we eat, to the saran wrapping on meats, from the plastic bags I put the vegetables in, to the plastic milk and juice containers, and the single serving snacks; like yogurt, apple sauce, fruit roll ups, and Ovaltine, everything is contained in plastic, and I have not even begun on the list of beauty items. There is no reason to. It’s all plastic – make up, hand cream, shampoo, razors, toothbrushes, and other personal items are all wrapped in plastic.
So I have set a goal to purchase products like sauces, juice, and milk in glass containers when I can.
We can only do so much to reduce plastic use but if we get rid of the bags and some other items, maybe we can reduce the garbage. 
And maybe then we can stop eating it.

Time Magazine, Is Your Fish Really Foul?,9171,159983,00.html
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