What to do about plastic?

I love plastic. I use it all the time. If you’re reading this, you probably do, too.

My favorite kind? Disposable contact lenses. They come in plastic cases, individually wrapped for extra safety, with a foil seal that makes the nicest sound when it peels off. Contacts provide excellent peripheral vision and don’t slide down my nose. They are great for skiing and for seeing all the way across the room in yoga class.

When I’m done with a pair of contacts, into the trash they go, where they shrivel into brittle bits the texture of dried seaweed. Once I dropped a contact lens in a parking lot. By the time I found it, it had been discovered by an ant, who was carrying it off. Who knew? Ants love contact lenses too.

I feel bad about this. That’s a lot of plastic. Glasses are an acceptable substitute most of the time. For awhile I collected the lens cases and foil covers. They might be good for an art project! The cases have a handy hole, which could be threaded to make a necklace. I have a drawerful, in case anyone wants a lens case necklace.

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My first sale on Etsy?

I think of myself as an eco-crusader. I compost, and I’ve brought my own bags to the grocery store for decades. I live in an eco town with a goal to be sustainable sometime in the not too distant future. In 2013 our city imposed a 5 cent charge for paper bags and banned opaque plastic bags with handles.* You know the ones. They flap in trees and hang half-ingested out of turtle’s mouths in nature videos. This was a momentous event. People wrote letters to the editor and protested over-reaching government. One letter-writer vowed to boycott stores here and shop in the neighboring town, which doesn’t charge 5 cents for bags. Now, five years later, most people tote their own bags and nobody makes a fuss. Success!

In spite of my and my town’s heroic efforts, plastic trash has continued to proliferate. Pieces are showing up in the air and water, everywhere.

It’s in bottled water. A recent study tested 250 containers of bottle water from 11 leading brands purchased from several countries. Brands included

  • Aquafina
  • Dasani
  • Evian
  • Nestle Pure Life
  • San Pellegrino

Ninety-three percent of all the bottled water contained at least 10 pieces of plastic larger than the size of a human hair, and an average of 314 smaller pieces that were probably plastic. The water bottling companies were surprised. They comply with all safety standards! (There are no safety standards for plastic in bottled water.)

It’s in tap water.  Tap water was tested all over the world. 83% was contaminated with plastic.

The highest rate of contamination was in the United States. 94% of US tap water samples contained plastic fibers, including samples taken from the Congressional buildings, the US Environmental Protection Agency’s headquarters, and Trump Tower.

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It’s in the oceans. A survey of beaches in the remote Australian Territory of the Cocos Keeling Islands in the Indian Ocean, home to about 600 people, found tons of plastic from Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and China. Cleanup efforts don’t even put a dent in the mess.

Similar messes are on beaches all over the world.

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Cozumel

Plastic bits are in honey.

Beer.

It’s in the air.  A lot of plastic is floating around. Ten tonnes** of it sprinkled from the atmosphere onto Paris in 2015.

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Montmartes, under siege from microparticles

Are we doomed?

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Baja California sur Mexico

Visit again next week. I’ll be here in defensive stance over my stash of disposable contact lenses, but also with better news.

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Marcus Erikson’s boat made from plastic bottles and a Cessna cockpit. Photo credit: Marcus Erikson

*Note: The town ban on plastic bags exempts clear, plastic produce bags. Rolls of these are stocked at handy intervals in produce and bulk food departments. I have a supply of on hand to make extra certain that the carrots in the vegetable drawer don’t touch the cabbage. 

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Plastic bags deter vegetable integration. Photo: Alan Levine

**A tonne = 1,000 kg, which is a little more than a ton. This study  found plastic particles showering on Paris from the atmosphere at a rate of 280 particles/m2/day. I don’t know what that means, but the Guardian article linked above pencilled it out at ten tonnes a year. 

Featured image: seaside dump in the Philippines. All the organic material decomposes quickly, leaving lots and lots of plastic.  Photo credit: Orb Media

For more interpretations of this week’s WordPress Photo prompt: Prolific

18 comments

  • All that plastic is mind-boggling, no doubt, especially when we learn how ubiquitous it is. I’m at the point where I feel guilty using a straw in a restaurant, and yet I often do because sometimes those glasses aren’t something I want to put my lips on. Ever found a lipstick imprint on your glass at a restaurant? Icky, no fun. And like you I wear contacts. I only have to change them every two weeks, but still, that’s 24 plastic packs a year. Sigh. I have no answer, but I suppose if we all did our small part, that would be a nice start.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh my gosh. Now look at the thought you’ve planted in my head. I put my lips on restaurant glasses all the time! :/

      Doing our bit is good. My cloth grocery bags are better than store bags anyway. Never break. Still, I’m thinking we need some pretty large scale adjustments. Hard to turn a ship like ours, though. Cheers —

      Liked by 1 person

      • I got the greatest cloth bags at Target. They’re big and sturdy. They don’t sell those ones anymore. I wish I had bought more than two.

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        • I had 3, beautiful European style net bags. Someone broke into our car (a fly-n-park lot), and STOLE THEM. Along with my gym bag. True, carrots slipped through, but they had a lot of caché. Land’s End still makes pretty good bags. Remember those canvas ones that stand up by themselves?

          Like

  • We’re all trapped between a rock and a hard place when it comes to plastic. I think about my own personal plastic waste most often when I open one of those small prescription eye drop vials that allow me to have the medicine I need to see clearly– two drops at a time. I carefully save the used vials and tops, putting them in our recycling container, but how much help is that to the world, I wonder? And like Carrie mentioned above, I use plastic straws… and I use the grocery store thin plastic bags for my vegs and fruits… It’s a daunting problem.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think medical uses are among the best ways to use plastic. We really do need it for some things. We can pressure manufacturers to recycle and use better materials, but I’ll take a needed eye drop vial over plastic wrap for food any day.

      Liked by 1 person

  • Only last year our city started composting on food scraps. It has been a huge effort to get households to change their habits.
    I find it simpler easier to wear my glasses and I have to carry to 2 sets..computer & reading. Yea, that new necklace you might have started a trend. 🙂

    I confess I use plastic grocery bag to carry out my non-paper,non-food garbage into our condo collective dumpster.

    Not using plastic bags, is like getting more people to bicycle….it takes several years before one sees mindless adoption. It has be..mindless adoption. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  • At the end of April, I stopped drinking out of plastic water bottles. For years, I have used them with my excuse being I didn’t like it when one of my two now-deceased cats would take a sip from my glass. I’m good at staying hydrated, so I have wondered too is drinking from plastic bottles from twenty years somehow contributed to me developing cancer. There’s no way to know for sure, but it does make me feel a bit ill to read this post on how prevalent plastic is in so many situations.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re right, no way to tell. Cancer is complicated. Let’s just say it didn’t contribute to your cancer! It’s just good to quit using them for a lot of reasons. I think it’s fine to use them in emergency situations: hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis.

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