Plastics Addiction

Appeared in:

  • Southern Sierran, July 2006
  • SFV Sierra Club Chapter newsletter, July 2006

Breaking Our Addiction to Plastic
(#8 of the Plastic Plague series)
by Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.

There goes the neighborhood!  Illustration by Willis Simms

There goes the neighborhood! Illustration by Willis Simms

In the Jan. 2006 State of the Union address, President Bush finally admitted that “America is addicted to oil.” He pointed out the need to improve energy and fuel efficiency and reduce our dependence on foreign oil, but said nothing about how our mindless consumption of petroleum-based plastics is symptomatic of this national malady.

However, just a few facts suffice to illuminate the seriousness of our unhealthy relationship to plastics.

Since the mid 20th century start of the plastics explosion, consumption of plastics has skyrocketed to the point that the weight of plastics produced in a year in our country is twice the weight of the entire US population.1 And as is true for any addiction, we live in denial about our problem…denial that plastics are non-biodegradable and denial of the threats they pose to the environment and human health (see previous articles in this series for details).

Our denial is so complete that we’ve allowed plastic debris to accumulate to frightening levels in our oceans – some parts of the Pacific have 6 times more plastic than zooplankton.2 We’ve created a society where just about everything is made out of plastic without taking responsibility for the impact on our own health and the health of the planet.

The first step in treating any addiction is to admit the problem. Given how long our administration has taken to admit publicly to our oil addiction, I suspect it will be a very long time before we see any actions on its part to curb our reckless consumption of plastics. However, lasting societal change can start at the grass roots level, and that mean you and me. Each of us needs to embark on a personal rehabilitation program, starting with a long hard look in the mirror to come to grips with our individual contributions. Each person’s journey to a healthier relationship with plastics will be unique, but the following sample “12-step program” might serve as a guide.

  1. Accept that “bioplastics” or other technology will not solve the problem for you (See Bioplastics Save?).
  2. Keep reusable bags in your trunk for all your shopping needs.
  3. Kick the bottled water habit by filtering at home.
  4. Learn the ropes of your local recycling programs.
  5. Bring your own reusable coffee cup when visiting your favorite coffee store.
  6. Decline beverage straws.
  7. Boycott anything in over-packaged “bubble” wrap.
  8. Buy local produce that doesn’t require plastic wrap for shipping.
  9. Look for alternatives to single-use disposable items. Choose reusables like refillable ballpoint pens and razors.
  10. Upgrade your computer by necessity only, not just because you can afford it.
  11. Urge your family, friends & elected officials to do their part too.
  12. Strive to live by the age-old adage “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.”

You can be comforted that no one expects you to eliminate all plastics from your life (I wrote this on a plastic keyboard!), but we Americans have lived before without so much plastic and we can again without sacrificing quality of life. If you find yourself whining that “it’s just too much trouble,” I refer you to the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights – neither laziness nor environmental pollution is among the 30 rights proclaimed. Without major consumer behavior change, the plague of plastics we’ve created in recent decades will only become more lethal to earth’s inhabitants.

(Please leave a comment about creative ways you are reducing plastic consumption)

2. Moore et al., 2001. Marine Pollution Bulletin, vol. 42, No. 12:129-130.

To participate in a California-based statewide plastics reduction campaign, contact Earth Resource Foundation or call (949) 645-5163.

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