The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish
January 29, 2011

Is it Plastic? Find the Answers, Win a Prize

I’m leaving for the East Coast again, and blogger Ruchi, aka Arduous, is filling in with a guest post.  But instead of giving answers, she has questions… for me.  But I’m getting on a plane in a few hours and don’t have time to answer them.  So that’s where you come in.  Read Ruchi’s post and find the answers to her questions. Some of the answers are here on this blog and some might require a bit of external research.  Read to the bottom of the post to find out how to enter the contest.


Ruchi ArduousWhen the Artist Formerly Known as Fake Plastic Fish emailed around asking if people would be willing to contribute a guest post, I was … flummoxed. See, I really wanted to help out. I did. But I had a problem. Anything and everything I know about plastic, avoiding plastic, wasting less plastic, etc, comes from … none other than Beth Terry, plastic-avoider extraordinaire. I mean, I COULD write some post about giving up zip-locs or not wasting plastic produce bags, or some such. But I’ve DONE that. The Artist Formerly Known as Fake Plastic Fish has DONE that. A gazillion times.

I have a lot of plastic problems. Now that I compost, it’s crystal clear just how much plastic I use (because that’s the majority of my trash.) And while it may not be as much as the average American (at least I hope it isn’t), it’s still a lot. Some of this plastic waste reflects conscious choices I have made. But some of it is unconscious.

You see, I think a big problem at hand is that plastic is so ubiquitous, that sometimes, we kind of forget what is and what is not plastic.

Take CDs for instance. They are shiny and look vaguely metallic, and I used to be able to recycle them with my work’s electronic recycling. But I know that they are, in fact, plastic.

Or take this face scrub I once bought. I had no idea that it had hidden plastic in the actual scrub itself. Once I found out, I quickly stopped using it.

So in the end, I decided I wanted to write a post about what is plastic and what is not. I figured I could pose some questions: plastic or no. And then I’d get a very wise plastic zen master to answer my questions.

Except … how many plastic zen masters do I know?

Just one. Slaps Forehead.

Luckily for me, and for you, the honorable Beth Terry has decided that she is willing to answer my inane questions (and probably yours.)

So here we go.

1) Plastic or no? My silicone contact lenses?
2) Plastic or no? The tetra-pak soy milk?
3) Plastic or no? The non-tetra pak lemonade carton?
Side note, I’m assuming that the little spouty thing on the lemonade carton is plastic even if the body isn’t?
Side note two, why do they have the little spouty things on everything these days? Is it because of that Friends episode where Joey couldn’t open a milk carton?
Side note three, according to the not-very-helpful pictures on my compost bin, I’m still allowed to compost the lemonade carton. How am I able to do that if the spouty thing is plastic?
Side note four, why can’t SF recology make better pictures?
4) Plastic or no? My magazines?
5) Plastic or no? The glossy stuff on books?
6) Plastic or no? Confetti?
7) Plastic or no? Glitter?
8) Plastic or no? See the theme here with the confetti and the glitter is we ordered our wedding invitations recently. And they are super beautiful (and cloth). But they also have little doodads on them and I have no idea if they are plastic or not. Probably you have no idea if they are plastic or not either (at least not without looking at them.) How am I supposed to tell if little shiny things on my invitations are plastic or not?!
9) Plastic or no? Meltdowns? (This is more of an existential question.)
10) Plastic or no? Our planet?

I know. I’m heavy. I await your responses, oh Zen Master Terry.


*Sigh* I did promise Ruchi I’d answer her questions, but I just don’t have time. Will you help? You get one contest entry point for each correct answer you leave in the comments. And you get one extra bonus point for clicking the “Like” button on the new My Plastic-free Life facebook page. (Leave a comment here and let me know you did it.) Please click the link even if you think you’ve already done it. What harm can it do?

What’s the prize? It’s a surprise. But I guarantee you it will be good.

26 comments
Peggy
Peggy

Thanks, Beth, for all the information. I am especially interested in silicone, because it seems to be everywhere now. The other day I was in a kitchen goods store. It seemed everything in there was coated in silicone- baking pans, baking sheets. It's the new Teflon. If it's not recyclable or biodegradable, I'm not sure it's any improvement over oil-based plastics. And undoubtedly it has colorants and other chemicals in it, too.

Jude
Jude

Everything listed is either plastic or has appreciable amounts of plastics used in them ...or in the case of our poor world, the top layer has far more plastic micro-particles throughout the soil & water than ever should be in it. Contact lens are definitely plastic as is almost every bit of confetti & glitter. That shiny metallic looking finish is not metal but plastic. People don't clue in that when they read of something made of resin, it's just a form of plastic. And polyester? C'mon, people - that's plastic too. Polyester threads are exuded from very fine holes as a liquid plastic that hardens on contact with air. Those 'wonderful' microfibre cloths are just more plastic & all that plastic lint ends up in our soil & water. Plastics come in a mind-numbing number of forms that most people have no idea of.

S
S

Brilliant idea, Debra!!! I'll be collecting compost in milk cartons from now on.

Erin
Erin

I "liked" your Facebook page. Thanks!

Molly
Molly

Meltdowns themselves are not plastic, but they frequently come with plastic accessories, like pints of ice cream. I think it depends on how you "treat" your meltdown.

claire
claire

1) silicone is technically a polymer (ie., plastic) just not an oil-based one. it still won't biodegrade, as far as I've heard, but is considered to be more "inert" as far as its environmental effects go 2) tetra-paks do contain layers of plastic, along with layers of paper and aluminum 3) your lemonade carton has a plastic lining on the inside (I have not seen these made with wax in a long time), not only the spout is plastic (which, yes, it is). and seemingly the composting company doesn't care about plastic in their compost? 4) magazines with that glossy paper aren't typically plastic coated (if there's a plastic coated page it will be really rigid and you can actually see the plastic if you rip it), usually they're coated with corn-based sprays to make them shiny (this is according to "the omnivore's dilemma"). 5) books like text books might have a plastic coating on the cover (I seem to have a memory of one with peeling plastic), or some might use the same stuff magazines use. 6) confetti could be either plastic or paper, I'm not sure if they use foil or not. if it's shiny it's likely plastic. if you crease it and it turns a lighter color on the dent, it's plastic. 7) glitter is usually plastic, but was traditionally made with mica or pieces of metal. if you use glitter makeup (or any makeup, really!), check the ingredients, it might also say "silica" which is essentially stone. 8) shiny doodads? I'd say they're probably plastic. usually the way to determine whether something is paper or plastic involves destroying it (by ripping, creasing, or using water) and you probably don't want to wreck your invitations. 9) meltdowns are entirely NOT plastic (unless you were to speak literally of "melting down" plastic), they're part of your brain which is (hopefully) completely plastic free, unless you have some kind of implant. 10) our planet is only part plastic (an ever-increasing part), but it's also made of lots of other things, so let's focus on those.

Clif
Clif

Ruchi, I think previous comments have answered your specific questions. I'd like to add that it isn't necessarily the fact that something is plastic that makes it not a good idea to use it. The over-riding issue is - does the material have bad effects? The preference for natural materials comes from their proven characteristics that have allowed them to exist without being contaminants, or not breaking down, or leaching into places they can do harm. But even 100% natural things can cause problems if there is too much of them in one place or if they are put into conditions that will cause them to change character or mix with other substances to produce unwanted results. Ice is all-natural but would you want a ton of it in your house, melting into a mess? Lye is all-natural but woe to the person who drinks it! Because plastic is so darned cheap to make, can take an infinite number of forms and is readily created from the ocean of petroleum underground, it's a safe bet that almost anything these days is plastic unless proven otherwise. As Beth has proven, you have to go out of your way to get non-plastic for just about any purpose. She does so because she has a goal that is not driven by cost. She sees the problems with plastic and makes her purchases with that in mind. But think of a company doing business. Why would it go out of its way (and run up expenses) to seek out some specific natural material with certain qualities when it can contract a plastic maker to create the desired qualities from a common source - oil. It's like having a magic box where you just set the dials for what you want, pour in a cup of oil and out comes your item. We're overwhelmed with plastic because it is cheap and omni-functional, the ultimate designer material. The problems hit us (and other life on Earth) over a period of years. Tomorrow is uncertain, no matter what, so there is a strong drive to have what is wanted now, to make it real in our hands, in our kitchens, in our lives in general, and place the possible consequences, the possible downside in that huge, virtually invisible bin called "the future"

Majeeda
Majeeda

Hi there, nice post Ruchi :) People have most likely answered most of these but I'll do a few for fun :) 1) Plastic or no? My silicone contact lenses? If they are really silicon then no, they aren't plastic as silicon is not a plastic. Whether silicon is ok or not is another questions altogether. It's meant to be 'inert' but I now prefer not to cook with it. 2) Plastic or no? The tetra-pak soy milk? Yes, those defo contain plastic. 3) Plastic or no? The non-tetra pak lemonade carton? Not sure about those...I can't think of which you mean. Side note, I’m assuming that the little spouty thing on the lemonade carton is plastic even if the body isn’t? Yup Side note two, why do they have the little spouty things on everything these days? Is it because of that Friends episode where Joey couldn’t open a milk carton? lol re Friends. Side note three, according to the not-very-helpful pictures on my compost bin, I’m still allowed to compost the lemonade carton. How am I able to do that if the spouty thing is plastic? They remove it at the recycling sorting stage as far as I know. Side note four, why can’t SF recology make better pictures? 4) Plastic or no? My magazines? I want an answer on this question too :D 5) Plastic or no? The glossy stuff on books? Me thinks, yes. 6) Plastic or no? Confetti? The confetti I know is paper...pls tell me plastic confetti is not being made :O 7) Plastic or no? Glitter? 8) Plastic or no? See the theme here with the confetti and the glitter is we ordered our wedding invitations recently. And they are super beautiful (and cloth). But they also have little doodads on them and I have no idea if they are plastic or not. Probably you have no idea if they are plastic or not either (at least not without looking at them.) How am I supposed to tell if little shiny things on my invitations are plastic or not?! It's hard isn't it? *sigh* 9) Plastic or no? Meltdowns? (This is more of an existential question.) Well some of the meltdowns I have seen must be plastic because they were extremely toxic!! Lol. Great question and pls lets all try and remain calm. 10) Plastic or no? Our planet? It will be soon if we aren't careful. ):

rivqa
rivqa

Re the contacts. I wear glasses as my current level of astigmatism can't be corrected by contacts. I'm hoping that one day I'll be able to afford laser vision correction, but in the meantime I only get new glasses (which seem to have plastic lenses these days) when I really need them. However when I did wear contacts I was using ones that lasted for a month, which is surely better than the ones that can only be worn once. As for silicones generally, silicon is an interesting element that shares many properties with carbon (it's in the next row down on the periodic table). Both can form a wide variety of materials. That's why sand and flexible polymers can both be silicon-based.

Gayle
Gayle

1) My silicone contact lenses? Yes, since they are packaged in plastic to get them. 2)The tetra-pak soy milk? Yes, lined with Plastic 3) The non-tetra pak lemonade carton? Yes, lining. 4) My magazines? Yes, when they are wrapped in plastic to mail them. No if they are not wrapped. 5) The glossy stuff on books? Yes, but sometimes they use a from of clay. 6) Confetti? Plastic if you get it in the craft stores 7) Glitter? Yes 8) See the theme here with the confetti and the glitter is we ordered our wedding invitations recently. And they are super beautiful (and cloth). But they also have little doodads on them and I have no idea if they are plastic or not. Probably you have no idea if they are plastic or not either (at least not without looking at them.) How am I supposed to tell if little shiny things on my invitations are plastic or not?! Trick question but I'm guessing yes. 9) Plastic or no? Meltdowns? (This is more of an existential question.) Nope, unless I solve them with reese's cups. 10) Our planet? Yes, since we are wasting ours with all the crap we waste .

EcoCatLady
EcoCatLady

I fear I have no answers for you, but I'm totally laughing out loud about "the artist formerly known as Fake Plastic Fish". Maybe we should just start calling her "the artist"? OK, but my point was... there really was a point... that I always thought that the foil liner that cream cheese comes in was a really foil. However... it didn't quite crinkle right, so I wrote to my municipal recycling agency and got the following response: ______________________________ Hi Rebecca, Thanks for asking. The foil wrapper on cream cheese are not pure aluminum foil. They are lined and so we can't accept them for recycling. Please discontinue throwing them in your recycling cart. ______________________________ So, there's one more thing to add to the plastic list. sigh.

Jessica
Jessica

1. Contacts = plastic, sorry! 2. Tetra pak soy milk containers = plastic...mixed materials, paperboard, aluminum and polyethylene. 3. Non-tetra pak container = plastic ...mixed material of paper board and polyethylene. Roughly 76% paper, and 24% plastic if you can believe it! 4. Magazines = paper! Woo hoo! 5. Glossy stuff on books = plastic! (Like book covers on hard covered books?) 6. Confetti = used to be paper, but often times plastic now...and it comes in plastic packaging! 7. Glitter = mostly plastic these days. Used to be made of glass and/or rock dust. But nowadays it's plastic. 8. If the glitter is large enough you can find out it's plastic by squeezing it. If it bends, then it's plastic. I don't know what it means if it doesn't bend, however! To find out if the confetti is plastic take a piece and pull it apart. If it rips, it's paper and if it stretches, then it's plastic. So. Much. Plastic.

underbelly
underbelly

Even if your contact lenses aren't plastic, they always come in those disposable plastic cases. Unfortunately, I don't think you can ever be truly plastic-free if you have vision issues. In cases like these, I think it is good to be mindful of ways to reduce disposable plastic. For example, I wear contacts and glasses, and I have been trying to wear my glasses full-time because it means that 1) I don't have to buy contact solution as often (which comes in plastic an is expensive) and 2) I don't go through as many disposable contact cases. Plus, my eyes feel tons better when I don't wear contacts, and now the only time I ever really wear contacts is when I work out b/c I hate it when my glasses get fogged. It's true that my glasses are completely plastic (including my frames, because metal frames always bend and drive me crazy), but they don't have to be thrown away in such a short time frame, like contacts.

TheGreenCat
TheGreenCat

Looks like everyone else has weighed in on the other things so I'll just address contacts. I have worn soft lenses for years and always thought they were plastic but your question prompted me to look them up. I wear Acuvue lenses and this is from the Acuvue site: "A soft contact lens is a medical device made from either of two families of plastics: hydrogels and silicone hydrogels." In my case, yes, my lenses are plastic. I recommend you look up your contact lens manufacturer's website to see exactly what your lenses are made of.

Blessed
Blessed

oh, and I "like" you on facebook now, Beth! : )

Blessed
Blessed

i just looked up the confetti, and while you can get it made of paper, some is also being produced in plastic. (i put "plastic confetti" into the search engine, and on the first page not only received links to companies selling plastic confetti, but also information about the north pacific gyre. so ironic.) i would LOVE for a whole discussion on silicone--i tried to do it, but was completely overwhelmed and did not feel like i had a good enough understanding of the basic chemistry to have my base concern addressed. My bare-bones understanding is that silicone is an element (???!) and somehow like sand (????!) but then somehow ends up being a soft, flexible, pink muffin holder that you can put in the oven without harmful side effects???? I really do not consider myself that much of a slow cookie, but I cannot get my brain around this one.

Tracey
Tracey

GREAT QUESTIONS! I am going to try to answer them on my blog because I need to know, too! http://www.anarreshealth.ca/node/1043 Thanks for your post about the Bawdy Shop. Nothing worse than eco fakes. If you mind, Beth or Ruchi, please let me know. Love & RRRevolution, Tracey

greg
greg

Let's face it, I think everything you mentioned has plastic componets. I try so hard not to buy plastic anything, but it is almost impossible. I have to start every conversation at the check out line with 'No plastic please" because even with my cloth bags they always want to put something in a plastic bag. Sigh, thanks again Beth. greg

Xan
Xan

As far as I know - and I've worked in both ceramics and libraries - glossy magazines are typically coated in a clay based glaze (though I'm pretty sure it has chemicals in it, and maybe plastic based ones). Same goes for most glossy book covers and insides, though I have seen ones with an obvious plastic coating flaking off the cover. They tended to be old and non-standard printing - agency reference books/training manuals, etc. Some books are bound with plastic as well, but this is more obvious because they tend to resemble spiral bound notebooks and the like, and are often found as training manuals, owners manuals, and the like. In addition to having plastic, these ones suck because they just. wont. stand. up. straight. And the last plastic potential in books is the glue, which varies so much by type of binding I couldn't tell you what was in it. Some of them are plastic based.

Desi
Desi

I'm going to say "yes" to all of your questions, except the contact lenses (mine are made of silicone), the meltdowns (only if they are so pernicious and pervasive to be considered a persistent environmental pollutants), and the planet (there is still hope). Also, I really don't know what the gloss finish on paper-stock is made of. Anyone?

Debra Baida
Debra Baida

SF Recology has great guidelines for what you can/can't compost, though they could not answer all the questions and possible variables. Some of the answers are for us to figure out. For example: Cut that spout off your non-tetra pak lemonade carton. Plunk the spout in your recycling bin and then use the carton sans spout as a container for compost!

Mike
Mike

1) My silicone contact lenses? No. 2) The tetra-pak soy milk? Yes. Apparently several layers of it. 3) The non-tetra pak lemonade carton? I'm thinking it's lined with plastic. 4) My magazines? No. 5) The glossy stuff on books? Not sure. 6) Confetti? Some of it is paper, some plastic. 7) Glitter? Often, yes. 8) Invitations? I don't know, but sadly I assume yes. 9) Meltdowns? Caused by plastic, sure. 10) Our planet? More and more, yes.

Danielle
Danielle

1) Plastic or no? My silicone contact lenses? Hard contacts are made from plastic.... silicone isn't technically plastic. 2) Plastic or no? The tetra-pak soy milk? plastic,paper,metal, paper, plastic.. I think that's the layer properties :) 3) Plastic or no? The non-tetra pak lemonade carton? Lined with plastic 4) Plastic or no? My magazines? no. 5) Plastic or no? The glossy stuff on books? Yes... or depends on the book. I've had some where once they've gotten older the plastic actually has started to peel. 6) Plastic or no? Confetti? yes. 7) Plastic or no? Glitter? i'm going to take a wild guess and say, "yes!" :( 8) Plastic or no? How am I supposed to tell if little shiny things on my invitations are plastic or not?! I would say if you're in doubt... it's probably plastic. 9) Plastic or no? Meltdowns? (This is more of an existential question.) nope. not plastic. when the meltdown is through... the evidence can be cleaned up and discarded without trashing the planet ;) 10) Plastic or no? Our planet? not plastic... yet. let's make sure that doesn't happen.

Joke
Joke

I want to know whether the contact lenses are plastic too!

Sharyn Dimmick
Sharyn Dimmick

Confetti can be made of paper -- you can make it yourself without much trouble. You used to be able to buy frozen lemonade concentrate in a cardboard tube with a metal top -- no plastic. You can make your own delicious lemonade from water. lemons and sugar or honey, No plastic. Store it in glass in the refrigerator or in a big ceramic crock for a party. Glossy magazines utilize coated paper. I don't know if the coating is plastic.

Michele Langston
Michele Langston

Glitter very often is plastic these days. At least the square-ular or larger variety. The dust kind of glitter I believe is rock dust...but I may be wrong on that one...