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WNY GOING GREEN: PLASTICS

Friday, 03.11.2011 / 5:07 PM / Blue & Gold Make Green
By Michael Jafari  - Graduate Assistant (2010)
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WNY GOING GREEN: PLASTICS
There are many natural resources that make up our everyday products, items, and tools, but the most common resource we use is hardly natural.

Plastic is a synthetic material that is put together by several large molecules used in the manufacturing of industrial materials.  Petroleum and natural gas are the most common particles that are in the majority of plastics.  Plastic is one of the most commonly used materials since it doesn’t rot and has the ability to mold into multiple shapes and forms. 

Since plastic is chemically made, it is much more abundant compared to other resources like wood and metal.   Because of its availability, flexibility and price, plastic is more commonly used for building material than any other material.   Some plastic items are home food storage containers, water bottles, computer casing, building materials, bags, compact disks, water jugs and much more.  Plastic is also the building block that leads to the production of other materials like rubber and nylon.

Plastic can be found everywhere.  Well, almost everywhere. 

Have you ever wondered why zoos and aquariums don’t serve plastic caps and straws at their concession stands?  Although it seems harmless when we use it for our everyday life, plastic is harmful to the earth and animals.  According to a National Geographic article by P.W. McRandle, plastics generally have low toxicity in their finished state, but it will pass through a living digestive system with no ill effect because of its insolubility in water. 

However, the article goes on to suggest that plastics often contain a variety of toxic additives such as plasticizers, which are often added to breakable plastics like polyvinyl chloride to make them durable enough to preserve food packaging, toys and teethers, tubing, shower curtains and other items. The particles of these chemicals can trickle out of the plastic when it comes into contact with food. Some compounds leaking from polystyrene food containers have been found to interfere with hormone functions and are suspected human carcinogens.  The concern has led to the European Union preventing the use of DEHP (di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate), which is the most used plasticizer in products around the world.

In addition to its danger to humans, it’s just as harmful to the environment.  Plastic’s durability makes the product degrade very slowly, and it could take hundreds or even thousands of years before it can dissolve.  It is also very harmful to burn plastic, as it releases harmful carcinogens, like dioxin, into the air. 

The most obvious way to prevent the use of plastic is to avoid or limit the use of the material all together.  For instance, instead of purchasing a whole case of regular 16.9 FL oz bottles, you can buy giant water jugs that you can refill over and over again.  You can also avoid buying products stored in plastic containers by buying products using different containers, such as glass, metal or paper.

However, plastic is almost entirely impossible to avoid using.  There are ways, however, to properly dispose of it.  Because of the potential danger plastic can have on the earth, the government has stepped in so we can properly dispose of it. The most common way to prevent the release of plastic into the environment is to recycle.  Most communities have weekly pick-ups for plastic products so they can recycle them.  If your recycling isn’t picked up, you can call your county's Department of Public Works or recycling center to determine what type of plastic to recycle and where to take it. You could also call 1-800-CLEANUP for state recycling information.

Another way you can prevent plastic from leaking into the environment is to return your deposit plastic bottles, instead of just tossing them in the trash.  Most grocery stores offer return deposit programs for your convenience.   

For more tips on helping blue and gold make green or to become a Green Team member, click here.

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