Throughout the last century or so, we as a society have flip-flopped all back and forth about which materials we use are better for the environment. At one point it was “save trees, don’t use paper”. Now we have so much plastic polluting our environment that we’re trying to go back to paper. Tin cans became glass jars that became plastic jars and now you’re being asked to go back. I’ve heard a lot of skepticism around this - why move away from plastic if we’re just going to keep changing our minds?
Revibe is committed to providing you with a curated selection of plastic free products for your personal care and household items because we believe that one of the most important things we can do for the environment right now is to break up with plastic. And here’s why.
1. Packaging Is the #1 Source of Plastic
The other 5 reasons all have to do with why plastic isn’t a good packaging material. But first, it’s important to know how much it matters to talk about packaging materials. Of global plastic production, packaging is over 2X more than the next highest sector. Product packaging is where we have the most opportunity to make a positive change when it comes to reducing our use of plastic.
2. Plastic Doesn’t Get Recycled
Seriously. It’s just not happening. Both globally (source) and in the US (source), about 91% of plastics do not get recycled. There are a lot of reasons for this. Chiefly, it’s difficult. There are so many different types of plastics that need to be separated that it’s very difficult for recycling facilities to do it efficiently. Furthermore, it’s hard for people to know which plastics they can recycle and which they can’t based on their local facilities. As a result, there’s a high contamination rate (non-recyclables that end up in the recycling) and a lot of recyclable plastic ends up going in the regular garbage bin. Also, there’s arguably not enough recycling bins placed around most workplaces, schools, city streets, etc.
I touched on this in my last blog post, so I won’t dive too deep here. But the US historically outsourced about 40% of our recycling, mostly to China. And by 2020, they will have banned all recycling imports. So the US is experiencing a recycling crisis. We don’t have the systems in place to handle recycling our own waste and in some areas, excess material is already being incinerated (bad news for air pollution).
3. Plastic is Destroying our Waterways (and killing animals)
So when plastic doesn’t get recycled, it just goes to the landfill, right? Not quite. You’ve most likely heart that by 2050 there will be as much plastic in the ocean as there are fish. This is not just something environmentalists say to alarm you. Although it should alarm you. It is horribly depressing to know that millions of marine animals are affected by our plastic waste but they’re not the only ones affected. Because of microplastics ingested by fish, birds, and other animals, humans end up ingesting microplastics as a result. The plant life of our creeks, rivers, deltas, and oceans is impacted as well.
4. It’s More Expensive Than We Thought
Plastic is cheap. That’s one argument people will use to defend it anyway. And it’s true. It might be a cheap material to produce and for businesses to package in initially. But there are much higher costs paid down the line. According to Business Insider, businesses are “losing at least $80 billion dollars a year because they have to make so many new plastics from scratch”. Polluted waterways can also hurt the tourism and fishing industries in many places around the world, which ultimately comes back to bite the businesses based there (to the tune of about $13B annually).
5. Plastic Production is Dirty Work
As if plastic pollution weren’t bad enough, we’ve got more bad news. The production of plastics results in air pollution too. Making plastics requires using toxic chemicals. And their gaseous byproducts pollute the air. You know that new plastic smell? That’s usually the smell of harmful phthalates that you shouldn’t be breathing in. Notice how there’s a prop 65 warning in every Starbucks and at every Target? Let’s just suffice it to say that the ingredients in plastic have the potential to cause a whole slew of health problems, so we’re all better off if we don’t expose ourselves to it. However, plastic production is going up, not down.
6. Plastic Waste Will be Here Forever
Plastic takes hundreds of years to break down. We’re anticipating about 450 years for your average plastic water bottle. But that doesn’t even account for all of the conditions plastic experiences in the landfill. Without sunlight, ventilation, exposure to dirt and microbes, etc. materials take even longer to break down. The very first plastic ever created is still here with us today.
7. The Alternatives are Already Here (we just have to use them)
We know that paper, glass, and aluminum are much easier to recycle than plastic. The production of new aluminum isn’t great for the environment either, but aluminum is infinitely recyclable and it only takes 60 days to go from your trash, back to a storefront shelf. Glass is a sturdy reusable with much more recycling potential than plastic and it’s not packed full of toxins like plastic is. In fact, none of these are. But beyond these well-known alternatives, we also have plant-based composites that can be used in place of plastic and styrofoam. In some countries, grocery stores are using banana leaves for produce packaging! For every plastic packaging problem, there is a solution. These swaps can be made easily and cheaply. We just have to start opting for them.
What did I miss? I could go on about my loathing for plastic all day, but I think 7 points is enough for most people. If you need more reasons to start moving toward a plastic free lifestyle, just let me know! Drop a comment below or email firstname.lastname@example.org. One final thing, if you really love data and you want to dive into the numbers on plastic, I recommend this compilation of findings from Our World in Data. Thank you again for being here, for reading this blog, and being a part of the Revibe Tribe!