Plastics are everywhere, from your yogurt container, to your toothbrush, to your clothes. These flexible, durable materials have become so ubiquitous we often didn't think twice about them. But, in recent years the false security of recycling solving our plastic waste problem (only 9% of plastics that go into the recycling bin are actually recycled), combined with the awareness about microplastics pulluting our bodies and the environment have left us to think twice about our reliance on this convenient, but harmful material.
As detailed in a recent article by The Big Think, the biggest threat to human health are plastic additives that make it pliable, non-stick, less flammable, etc. There is evidence that BPA, PFAS and PBDE could be endocrin disrupting and lead to higher cancer rates, infertility and reduced birthrates.
"Chemicals from plastics could be a similar threat to lead poisoning discovered in children's toys" says Philip J. Landrigan, a professor, pediatrician, and Director of the Program for Global Public Health and the Common Good at Boston College
One of the issues with reducing plastic is what our alternative materials cost us, and how they perform. Plastics are light, malleable, and often take less energy and natural resources to produce (as opposed to wood or metal products for example). In fact, recent studies have shown that the carbon footprint of a paper bag is much higher than a plastic one. So where are we left?
We believe that there is some purpose to plastic, in particular when it comes to sanitization, carrying goods and health products. The biggest issue with plastic is what we do with it when we're done with it. Since it does not biodegrade, it can leave our environment full of trash. The plastics to try to eliminate from our lives are those that we only use once, for a short-term. The biggest offenders are our food and personal care products. If we can shift from a single-use mindset to one of reuse, that will significantly reduce the amount of plastic that is left in the landfill.
"Regardless of whether the bag is plastic, paper, or another material, the most sustainable choice is the bag you already have" National Geographic Society, 2023
So our solution? Let's make reusing and refilling easy. Let's use materials that last such as stainless steel and organic cotton, and ensure that when we're done with them these materials can be easily recycled into something new.