Daily Chronicle

350Kishwaukee: Why I don’t like plastic

Reduce, reuse and recycle is a wonderful summary of how we should live our lives.

Reduce encourages us to think twice about whether we actually need something new, and it suggests if we do not actually need something we should not buy it. Reuse reminds us to reflect on if we already have something we can use; Reuse also means we should utilize an item more than once. Recycle tells us to clean something and make it ready to be picked up or delivered to a recycling center. Ideally, at the recycling center materials will be further sorted and sent on to a processing plant that will create something new that can be used again and again, in other words, recycled.

However, recycling is not magic and not everything can be broken down into its original materials and then made into a new product.

Plastics cannot always be recycled because the original material has probably been mixed with at least one, or more likely, many chemicals before they were made into a product. There are so many different chemicals mixed with plastic that when the plastic product is at the recycling plant there is no way to determine which chemicals were used in it.

The basic material plastic is made from is crude oil. Crude oil is a fossil fuel that is taken from deep underground or from under the oceans. Over millions of years the remains of dead plants and animals accumulated into thick layers buried under rocks, sand, silt, and dirt. The weight and heat of the accumulated layers turned the dead material into crude oil. Now we refine crude oil into gas for our cars and trucks, and for making plastics.

There are more than 13,000 chemicals that are used with the petroleum that makes up plastic. At least 3,200 of these chemicals are harmful to humans, and animals. The harmful chemicals can hurt our bodies in many ways. They can cause cancer and diabetes; damage our nervous system; mimic, block or alter the actions of hormones in our body; and reduce our fertility. Currently there are no regulations that limit the number or type of chemicals in plastic. When plastics are made with dangerous chemicals they are not labeled as containing a substance that may interfere with our health.

Unfortunately, plastics are often used as containers for our food and other products. When the packaging of our food is plastic, some of the chemicals found

in that plastic migrate to the food, particularly when the food is heated. This is according to Jane Muncke, who has a doctorate in environmental toxicology and is Managing Director and Chief Scientific Officer of the Swiss Food Packaging Forum. She advises us to drink hot beverages in glass, porcelain, metal, or paper cups, not in plastic. We should transfer food from plastic containers to glass or porcelain containers or dishes when being heated in a microwave.

The City of DeKalb uses Lakeshore Recycling service for garbage pickup and recycling. They take all plastics except No. 6. However, since No. 7 plastic is unhealthy we should not use containers with number 7 on the bottom.

The use of plastics has grown 400% in the past 30 years. Plastic now accounts for 3.4% of greenhouse gas expansion. Only 9% of used plastic is recycled while 19% is incinerated, and 50% goes into landfills. This leaves 22% most of which finds its way as trash into rivers and the oceans.

Members of the group 350Kishwaukee are worried about plastic’s growth as extraction of oil and the burning of plastics are releasing emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. 350Kishwaukee members think the leaders of corporations that extract oil are looking for new markets for plastic in order to continue to make money off the oil. I think the executives believe they have enough money so they will find a way to live comfortably in a world with hotter temperatures and more instability in the weather.

Anyone who wants to work with 350Kishwaukee to learn more and attempt to roll back plastic can join us. Send your email url to merylkgd@gmail.com or call us at 815-758-4827.

  • Meryl Greer Domina is a member of 350Kishwaukee, a DeKalb-based environmental group focused on addressing global climate change.