Creating a Life Less Plastic

April 19, 2008


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My background My blog

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What's a blog? Why I'm giving up plastic
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My health Environment Additional reasons

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Tips and tricks for using less plastic General tips for living sustainably


My background
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Grew up on the south side of Chicago Studied at the University of Illinois ChampaignUrbana Work for a non-profit in Chicago Progressively more interested in sustainability in the past few years


My blog
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Called Life Less Plastic About my experiences trying to eliminate plastic consumption from my life
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To protect my health To protect the environment Additional reasons

Average Jane (not doctor, scientist, or expert)

What's a Blog?
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Short for Weblog or Web log An online diary A personal chronological log of thoughts published on a Web page Also a way for people to share information

Source: Webster's New Millennium Dictionary of English

My Blogging Experiences
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I write an entry every other day (just about) About 200 people visit my blog each day I sometimes get between 10-25 comments on entries I've become part of a community

Why I'm Giving Up Plastic...

Plastic Has Good Points
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Medical uses - safer and more versatile Protects materials from water damage Relatively unbreakable Low weight reduces shipping costs and oil used in transportation Cheap / disposable

My Health

Health Risks Associated with Plastic

Plastics #3, #6, #7 may have negative health effects Numbers refer to the plastic type

Typically on underside of item

Plastic #3 / PVC

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Pipes Plastic bags Garden hoses Inflatable recreational toys Blood-storage containers Intravenous tubing

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Children's toys Pharmaceutical products Pesticide products

Source: CDC Fact Sheet on Phthalates

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Exposure to Phthalates

Phthalates are added to PVC to soften it According to studies by the CDC:
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Expose to phthalates is widespread Mostly from ingesting the chemicals and possibly from breathing them in More than 80% of infants have been exposed to phthalates

Sources: CDC Fact Sheet on Phthalates CDC Exposure Report - Third Report Washington Post

Health Effects of Phthalates

Studies on rodents have shown phthalates to cause:
Testicular injury, liver injury, liver cancer, and teratogenicity (birth defects)

Additional animal studies have shown:
Lowered testosterone levels, testicular atrophy, and abnormalities within testes cells of male animals

Animal studies using higher doses have shown:
Ovarian abnormalities in female animals
Source: CDC Exposure Report - Third Report

Phthalates in Puerto Rico

Girls in Puerto Rico are experiencing premature breast development

Occuring as early six months to two years old

Scientists have found correlations between phthalate levels and condition Note: Exposure to phthalates is not just from plastic

Source: Science News Environmental Health Perspectives

Plastic #7 / Polycarbonate

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Baby bottles Aluminum food and pop cans Water bottles (nalgene style) Plastic dinnerware Glasses Consumer electronics

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CDs and DVDs Car parts Water filters Paper flame retardants

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Source: CDC Fact Sheet on Bisphenol A

Polycarbonate Exposure to Bisphenol A

Polycarbonate plastic contains Bisphenol A (also known as BPA) Exposure occurs when Bisphenol A migrates into food through plastic Also from contact with other consumer products or and breathing it in Bathing may be another source of exposure According to the CDC 93% of Americans have measurable BPA levels in their urine
Sources: Environmental Health Perspectives CDC Fact Sheet on Bisphenol A

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Health Effects of Bisphenol A
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Acts as a endocrine disruptor; mimics estrogen 115 published studies concerning low-dose effects of BPA, and 94 of these report significant effects BPA has been shown to have hormone-like effects on the reproductive system in animal testing

Sources: Environmental Health Perspectives CDC Fact Sheet on Bisphenol A

Health Effects of Bisphenol A
From animal studies:

Lasting effects in reproductive and metabolic development Obesity Prostate and mammary gland cancers Early onset of puberty Reproductive-organ defects Reduced sperm counts Altered mammary glands Difficulty getting pregnant
Sources: L.A. Times

Plastic #6 / Polystyrene

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CD jewel cases Plastic dinnerware

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Styrofoam food containers Foam coolers Packing peanuts

Health Effects

Is thought to be toxic to the brain and nervous system Been found to adversely affect red blood cells, liver, kidneys and stomach in animal studies. Must admit: haven't personally done too much reading on this one myself

Source: Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Smart Plastics Guide

The Environment

Municipal Waste Increases

Source: EPA Report on Municipal Waste 2006

Plastic Waste Statistics

In 2006, Americans threw away:
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29.5 million tons of plastic (29,500,000 tons) That's 59 billion pounds of plastic (59,000,000,000 pounds)

The amount of plastic consumed as a percent of total waste has increased dramatically
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Less than 1% in 1960 11.7 % in 2006.

Source: EPA Report on Municipal Waste 2006

Plastic Waste Statistics
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70 million: bottles of water consumed each day 22 billion: single-serving plastic water bottles thrown
away each year

100 billion to 1 trillion: Number of plastic bags used
each year worldwide

235.2 billion: 12 ounce servings of non-alcoholic
beverages consumed each year

Sources: Container Recycling Institute American Beverage Association New York Times: Progressive Bag Alliance

Depicts two million plastic beverage bottles: the number used in the U.S. every five minutes
Source: Chris Jordan Photographic Arts

Reycling Plastic Is Difficult

Many people don't understand which items can and can't be recycled

Despite chasing arrows, the numbers on underside do not indicate that an item can be recycled

In Chicago, blue bag users can only recycle plastic items labeled #1 or #2 6.9% of plastic waste is recycled in the U.S.

Sources: City of Chicago EPA Report on Municipal Waste 2006

Recycling Plastic Is Complicated
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The demand for recycled plastic is not as large Sorting plastic is expensive Amount of plastic shipped overseas to be recycled is growing

In 2002, 35% of PET plastic was shipped overseas to be processed At overseas plants, unwanted plastics might get burned or dropped in waterways and unlined landfills

Source: Garbageland, Elizabeth Royte


“Great Britain: Are You Poisoning China?” Video courtesy of Sky News


“Synthetic Sea Plastic in the Open Ocean” Video courtesy of the Alagita Research Foundation

A Few More Reasons

Plastic is Made from Oil

Plastic is made from oil and natural gas
(although it can also be made from coal or bio sources)

72% of Americans do not know that plastic is made from oil 10% of U.S. oil consumption goes into making plastics 37 million barrels of oil are used make the plastic bags we use each year
Source: American Chemistry Council Metabolix National Online Survey on Plastic

Hazardous Factory Conditions

Vinyl chloride, which is used to make PVC, is a known human carcinogen Recognized in 1960's when workers at a B.F. Goodrich plant near Louisville, Kentucky, were diagnosed with liver angiosarcoma, a rare liver cancer. Dioxin may be possible byproduct of PVC production According to the EPA, PVC factories cause harmful air pollution in factory towns Plastic factory explosions and fires
Source: EPA Federal Register of Environment Documents Source: Garbageland, Elizabeth Royte (cites Greenpeace on Dioxon)

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Using Less Plastic: Tips and Tricks

Tip #1: Bring your own grocery bags

100 billion to 1 trillion bags used worldwide; bags are made of oil Where to get 'em My mom made the switch
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Sling bags over your shoulder Carry more in each bags Stuff doesn't tip over the car Easy to remember

Tip #2: Bring your own produce bags

Don't forget: produce is already dirty Produce with a rind is already protected Make your own produce bags Purchase from or

Tip #3: Eat fresh fruits and veggies

Buy them packaging-free at the grocery store Grow a garden Visit farmer's markets Join a CSA Can and/or freeze local veggies for winter

Ball makes freezer safe glass jars

Tip #4: Buy from bulk bins

Wide variety Packaging-free; can use cloth bags Available at:
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Whole Foods Home Economist in Skokie Wild Oats in Hinsdale

Write letters to your supermarkets encouraging them to offer bulk bins

Tip #5: Steer clear of bottled water

Americans drink 70 million bottles of water per day Bottled water can cost more per gallon than gas Tap water is nearly free If you're worried about safety, it's better to get a filter Bring your own water bottle for road trips Klean Kanteen (

Tip #6: Bring your own container

For meat and cheese at the grocery store For restaurant leftovers (for your doggy bag) Even for bulk food items (you can have the container pre-weighed) Stainless steel containers from Sanctus Mundo (available at

Tip #7: Rethink your toiletries

Bar soap from companies like Sappo Hill, Dr. Bronner's Bar soap shampoo from Lush and Burt's Bees Vinegar rinse hair conditioner Baking soda deodorant Give up makeup?

Tip #8: Use better cleaning products

Baking soda
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cleaning sinks scrubbing tubs Disinfecting surfaces Floors Washing dishes

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Dr. Bronner's castille soap

Eco-friendly laundry detergent

Tip #9: Get back to the basics with food

Avoid convenience foods; usually heavily packaged Cook as much as possible Batch cook and freeze items Make your own bread, yogurt, and butter What would grandma eat?

Tip #10: With food, buy less compost the rest

Plastic used for shipping food Univ. of Arizona study: each American throws out 1.3 lbs of food per day Don't buy an item if you don't have a plan for it Only buy what you can use in a two week period Reduce your inventory Start composting
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Outdoor pile or bin Worm bin or tumbler

Tip #11: Give up pop
(or at least drink less)

Each American drinks about one 12 oz serving per day That's 10.26 billion cases of pop per year nationwide Soda typically packed in plastic or cans lined with polycarbonate Cut soda consumption in half and prevent billions and billions of containers from going to the landfill

Tip #11: Avoid plastic dinnerware, plates & straws

Skip the fast food Carry your own silverware Eat finger food If with friends or family, take real plate and silverware (wash it yourself)

A Few Tips for Sustainability
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Buy local Eat organic Eat less meat Walk or bike whenever you can Use less heat; less AC Change your lightbulbs to CFLs (recycle them when you're done)

Thrifts stores; Craigslist; Freecycle; Swaptree Fly less; buy carbon offsets Write letters to your representatives Write letters to companies

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