The United States Congress recently passed a bill that will ban the use of plastic microbeads in soap, body wash, toothpaste and other ‘rinse-off cosmetics’ beginning in 2018. Until recently, many consumers didn’t give those little balls in their soap a second thought, but today they are widely known to be bad for our waterways and wildlife. Now that we are on track to remove these unwanted pollutants from our soaps, we should consider other places where unexpected plastic might be lurking.
The grocery store is a great place to begin a hunt for hidden plastic. First stop: the fruits and veggies. Think that banana or apple is plastic-free? Look again. The stickers tacked onto grocery-store produce are made of plastic – something to consider when tossing that banana peel into your compost pile. Next, consider the canned food aisle. Most aluminium cans, including those holding soups and vegetables, beer and soda, are lined with a thin layer of plastic, sometimes containing the controversial chemical BPA. Cardboard milk and ice cream cartons are lined with plastic to keep them waterproof. And teabags? Some new styles, namely the pyramid-shaped ones, are 100% plastic mesh. But even the standard ‘paper’ tea bag has a thin layer of polypropylene plastic on the inside to hold its paper fibres together in water, making it only 70-80% biodegradable. At the till, you’ll find that most receipts are printed on a mix of paper and plastic. Unexpected plastic can also be found in your office drawer. Most rubbers are no longer made of true rubber – especially cheaper ones. Today’s erasers are instead a mix of rubber and plastic – often PVC.
However it’s your closet that might contain the next big plastic-awareness campaign: synthetic fabrics. Polar fleece, polyester, and acrylic fabrics all shed tiny plastic particles as they are worn and washed. One researcher found 1900 microfibres in the water used to wash one fleece jacket. Most of these plastic microfibres are too small to be caught by filters, easily passing through and into the waste stream.
This information isn’t meant to scare, only to educate. We cannot make informed choices about plastic use when we don’t know what products include it. Leading a plastic-free life – or making steps in that direction – doesn’t come easy. If you want to reduce your plastic consumption you have to do your homework: read labels, do research, ask questions, and take steps in the right direction.
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Contributor: Andrea Greene Liberatore