Plastics…Killing us softly.

The GZA from the Wu-Tang Clan has a song title that is poetic in itself on his first solo album. It’s called “Living In The World Today”.

And although the verses are nowhere near reflective of the title, the sentence says so much. To be living in the world today means that you are perpetually under attack from things seemingly beyond your control. To make matters worse, at every turn of new information, you’re bombarded by new revelations that things you believed to be safe are actually hazardous to your health. You are the most vulnerable creature on the planet, simply because you are the one with an ever-changing habitat and no real awareness of what that is. To put it frankly, you are dying from the moment you are born.

After hearing the constant nagging from an ex of mine, and the insisting of one of my closest friends, Indigo (who’s super world and health conscious), I finally decided to do a little research on what they told me was an unsafe practicality. This being my daily use and dependency on Plastics.

For years, I’d have to hear advisories against my reliance on plastic cups and cutlery (mostly because I absolutely HATE washing dishes), against my saved to-go ramekins full of sauce from my various adventures eating fast food, my water bottles, and my expansive Tupperware collection.

It bugged me out how serious they were, and tho I’ve heard little inklings of safety concerns and theories throughout the years, I’ve never heard any concrete disclaimers about the detrimental effects of this material that weaves its way into almost every aspect of our lives.

From the cars we drive in to the floors we walk on, from everything that we drink out of to this very keyboard I’m typing on, we have become a world that cannot re-imagine itself without the use of plastics. Becoming popular as a safer and cheaper alternative than metals, Plastic is valued for its versatility. It’s almost impossible to count the many items that are made from the various forms of plastic.

Plastic grades are determined by the American Chemistry Council and the Food and Drug Administration. Grades from 1 thru 7 are used to mark the intended purposes for each kind of plastic based on the chemical process used to make them. These numbers are usually included on the packaging and indicate how the products should be recycled.

Yet those are the most important parts. The intended purposes for use can be the deciding factor in the longevity of human health. And the chemical process used to make each kind of plastic is the determinant of just how hazardous to that longevity these substances are. The basic formations of plastics generally involve petroleum. This is already problematic, but what’s the most alarming are the additives and resins from the finished plastic products that find their ways into our systems through continuous exposure.

Due to its petroleum base, plastic is non-biodegradable, meaning it does not reabsorb back into the Earth and instead breaks down over spans up to 1,000 years. As it breaks down, it releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. More importantly are the chemicals released during use, notably, the chemical PVC (Polyvinyl chloride) which contains ethylene dichloride and vinyl chloride monomer. These increase human exposure levels to lead, cadmium and other toxins, yet it is known that the main component of the chemical, Vinyl chloride itself, is a carcinogen. Even more dangerous, is the inclusion of the compound DEHP (Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate), which is included in plastic formation to create flexibility. It has been shown to seep out of PVC products, and in animal tests has resulted in adverse effects like disrupting male reproductive organs. It has been subjected to state guidelines and regulations in California. The only silver lining is that PVC is used in plastics not used for food and drink, but for items such as medical instruments and bagging, shower curtains and harder structures such as flooring and piping. Still a threat.

What is the more immediate danger is chemicals such as PET (Polyethylene terephthalate), that is used in plastics for things like bottles for condiments and beverages – especially sodas, due to its ability to hold carbon. The re-use of such bottles, like the common practice of folk using the same water bottle and just adding filtered water or tap water to replenish as they move about is the danger here. Re-use contributes to the break down of the chemicals, including one named DEHA – which is linked to Cancer – into the beverage. The agent found in the most popular of plastics, however, is one called BPA (Bisphenol A). This is the kind of plastic that you are warned not to expose to high temperatures as that promotes the leaching out of chemicals. It is so prominent, that a study was done that found it present in %93 of the population over the age of 6. Tho no study was done including data for those under that age, infants are the most susceptible to BPA because it is used for everything from sipping cups to bottles to toys – all things put directly in their mouths. And because infants consume proportionately at a much higher rate than adults, their intake of the chemicals is of more concern. Studies with animals have shown considerable genetic damage resulting in growth stunts, underdevelopment and overall low survival rates. It has been approved because the consumption amounts are not comparable to humans. BPA is also a synthetic estrogen that is linked to weight gain, diabetes, obesity and Cancer and is used for more common items such as tableware, food and drink containers and packaging.

The FDA acknowledges the presence of such poisonous elements and their likelihood to get into what you are eating and drinking, but they judge the levels of threat on a scale of assumed usage over the span of a lifetime. This means, they’re coming to the conclusion that most people use the right kinds of plastics for the right kinds of purposes and aren’t doing things like using storage container plastics to microwave food, and aren’t using microwave plastics to store food. Or they’re hoping you’re not dummies like me who keep pouring different juices into the same Naked juice bottle from a week ago. Wow…How scary.

Recycling isn’t enough. There have been reports that suggest that the plastic recycling movement is just a sham and less fruitful than believed. The actual process is trickier than other materials, and it winds up as just a delay to the inevitable space it will take up in landfills for years. That is not including where it ends up in oceans, hurting ecosystems.

I read a very dismal article written years ago by a former petroleum specialists turned environmental activists with hippie ideals such as getting rid of cars and computers. Since we KNOOOOWWW that’s not gonna happen ever! We could benefit from more realistic alternatives. The author’s reasoning came from the argument that even the popular idea of bio-plastics is a detriment to the planet because it would be costly, result in more genetically modified organisms and still rely heavily on petroleum for the manufacturing.

There’s a Time magazine article from last year that goes into the intricacies of a bio-plastic boom which circles around doubt that we would be able to keep up with the particulars involved with safe and correct disposal. You can check it out here.,9171,1983894,00.html

Still, companies like CerePlast(  insist on being trend setters for a new wave. Alternative plastic processors are aware that their ways aren’t a cure-all for the damage done by the common plastic manufacturing that is prevalent right now, but it is a turn in the right direction as it can limit that damage significantly.

For more information on Plastics, their parts and effects, read this great article that meticulously breaks it down

I guess the rest would be up to you and I. People such as myself are the biggest offenders. I have to start making big changes that I’m not sure that I’m ready for. To begin with, I’ll have to stop using that same juice container and cup for weeks at a time. I already do recycle my plastic bottles, but maybe it’s time to recycle those plastic bags, packages and containers as well. And maybe it’s time to stop saving those to-go boxes and ramekins too.

Indeed, if you’re living in the world today, you have your work cut out for you. If not your life…