So many dilemmas
When 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. I await your responses, oh Zen Master Terry.
1) Plastic or no? My silicone contact lenses? It depends on your definition of plastic. For purposes of this blog, plastic is a polymer based on organic chemicals (carbon and hydrocarbons) usually derived from fossil sources like oil and natural gas (although recently some companies like Pepsi have found a way to derive those materials from plant sources.) Silicone, on the other hand, is a polymer based on a combination of organic and inorganic materials, the inorganic material being silicon, or sand. I would assume that the organic ingredients also come from fossil sources. Yes, it’s technically plastic. But whether or not it’s safer or better than organically-based plastic, I don’t know. Supposedly it is more stable. But I have a lot more research to do on silicone.
2) Plastic or no? The tetra-pak soy milk? Tetrapaks (aka aseptic packaging) are the boxes that sit unrefrigerated on the shelf and hold anything from soy milk to soup or even wine. Juice boxes are tetrapaks. And yes, they contain plastic. In fact, they contain multiple layers: plastic, cardboard, aluminum, cardboard, plastic, which makes them difficult to recycle.
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?
Yes Ruchi, cardboard cartons, the kind that must be refrigerated, are also lined inside and out with plastic. Many people assume it’s wax, but it’s actually polyethylene. Ruchi also wants to know why they are allowed in her compost bin if they are coated with plastic. That’s a good question. I think various municipalities are reconsidering whether they should go in the bin or not. According to an article in the East Bay Express, Berkeley’s compost facilities don’t want them anymore because they are not breaking down. I’m not qualified to answer questions about Recology’s photography skills.
4) Plastic or no? My magazines? I guess it depends on what magazine. They are made from coated paper. The coating for magazine paper is usually made from clay, but according to Wikipedia, the clay may be bound to the paper using various materials, some of which are synthetic. So there could be some plastic I guess. I haven’t called a magazine house.
5) Plastic or no? The glossy stuff on books? Do you mean on the cover? Most likely yes. It’s plastic. Here’s a page about various types of coatings for book covers.
6) Plastic or no? Confetti? There are different kinds of confetti. Some confetti is paper. Some is mylar, which is a metallic looking plastic.
7) Plastic or no? Glitter? Same answer as confetti. Glitter could be paper, plastic, or metal.
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?! Um… taste them? Personally, I just avoid shiny doodads these days, wherever they appear, assuming that most of them are plastic. Do your remember my post about obsessively removing the plastic beads from some tops? That was extreme. But anyway, if you’ve already ordered them, and you love them, chill out.
9) Plastic or no? Meltdowns? (This is more of an existential question.) Claire says, “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.” Claire, of course, is referring to the plastic material. But if you’re using plastic as an adjective, then yes, it is very plastic. “Neuroplasticity refers to the ability of the brain to change as a result of one’s experience, that the brain is ‘plastic’ and ‘malleable’.” You can mitigate meltdowns through meditation, or so I am told. :-)
10) Plastic or no? Our planet? Once again, noun or adjective? There’s a lot of plastic here, but a lot of other materials too. And the planet definitely has the ability to change and adapt. Whether it adapts to the benefit of humans or not is a different story. That depends on us, right?