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The effects of plastic on the environment

This article was written as a response to the question: Why is anybody using trash bags?
Background and implications of plastic bags and other non-biodegradable garbage in landfills

Garbage has been a part of humanity for thousands of years. The Mayan Indians had huge dumps for their refuse. History tells us that their dumps had an inclination to periodically explode, and then burn for several days due to the heat generated from decomposing material. Dumping has remained to this day, a popular means to dispose of garbage. For many thousands of years, this was an efficient way to do away with refuse. Prior to the industrial revolution, dumps contained all organic materials. The organics would decompose over time, slowly dropping the debris level, which made room for more garbage. But the dawn of mechanization changed all that.

As the west entered into the industrial age, we began to produce materials that did not decompose, or did so very slowly. And though this had some impact on the garbage dumps of the time, the real beginning of our modern day garbage disposal problems came in 1810 with the invention of the tin can. This was the forerunner of a host of other food and merchandise packaging that was to come over the next 200 years.

In two centuries, we have developed all sorts of new man made materials designed to help preserve food and package merchandise. The most nefarious and most revered, the most hated and most loved of all packaging materials ever invented by man is plastic. In 1839 Polystyrene was introduced, the grand daddy of modern day plastics.

Today, we could barely imagine what life would be like without plastic. We use plastic in a variety of forms to preserve and store our food. It’s in our cars, our TVs and computers, our I-Pods and our furniture. In our modern world, plastic is everywhere. The problem is, most plastic does not break down quickly. Some plastics have been found to survive in tact after decades in a landfill.

One huge problem with plastics in landfills comes from the use of the plastic garbage bag. Introduced to the consumer market in the 1960’s, they came into wide use in the mid 70’s. They have now become so widely accepted that environmental groups estimate that between 500 billion and 1 trillion of these bags are used every year worldwide. In fact, the problem has risen to such proportions that there is now a growing movement across the globe to ban the use of plastic garbage bags.

So, if this is such a big problem, why do we still use plastic trash bags? Well, the short answer is that, until recently, there hasn’t been an affordable and readily available alternative. However, in recent years, new environmentally friendly bags have been developed. This new generation of trash bag decomposes over a relatively short period of time. They are also comparable in price to the old style trash bags and now are available off the shelf in many national chain stores.

But the bag is only part of the problem. After that biodegradable bag decomposes, the contents of the bag are exposed. How much of what is in that bag is biodegradable? Follow these tips to reduce the amount of non-biodegradable garbage you send to a landfill.

First, to help minimize the overall volume of garbage you send to the landfill every day, create a compost bin. Just do a search on the Internet for “compost bins” and you will see thousands of websites offering plans and instructions on how to build and maintain one. Doing this will not only limit the garbage you send out the door, but composted materials make a fine fertilizer for your flowers and vegetables.

Next, be aware of the packaging used for things you buy. Many times you may have a choice between organic and synthetic packaging. For example, eggs normally come in Styrofoam cartons. But they also come in cardboard cartons too. Buy milk in cardboard rather than plastic bottles. Basically, try to avoid plastic, metal and glass if you have the option.

Also, reuse what you can. Most of us know about using the empty butter tub as a container for storing leftovers. If you’re into canning, I have used left over jelly jars to can preserves of my own and they work great. Be imaginative and consider that what you are throwing away could have other uses. The act of reusing alone will go a long way in helping to reduce the garbage you send to landfill and will save you money to boot.

Finally, if you can’t avoid bringing home non-biodegradable items and you can’t reuse them, then recycle them. I keep separate bins for glass and metal trash items and periodically, I take these to a local recycling facility.

I have one last word concerning the use of trash bags. Reusing the plastic grocery bags from the super market for other uses may seem frugal and environmentally sound. But, these bags still end up in landfills. Here’s an idea. Bring your own canvass bag with you to the super market and avoid having those little bags around altogether.

 

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Comments (10)

I'm always meaning to pick up a few canvas bags for shopping, but every time I think about it, the price of them is $5 a piece, and I just can't really afford to spend that much on one bag, when I buy lots of groceries. Great article!

Wow! I like to can my own sauces that I make from my own tomatoes and herbs that I grow in compost that I make. I had no idea that I could reuse a jelly jar! The seal holds up okay? How many uses do you get generally? -Good info!

I have used food jars like the ones jelly come in, for canning fruit preserves. They work great if you are using the water bath method. This method is good for preserving fruit jams, jellies, pickles and tomatoes. However NEVER use these in the pressure cooker method of canning! The glass is thinner than regular canning jars and could literally explode if used in this manner. As for the lids, I have never had any real problems with them sealing. When I can preserves, my family consumes them pretty quickly. I know I have had them last for 6 months with no problem though. The key I have learned in re-using these jars is the heavier and thicker the glass, the better. I have also found that old mayonnaise jars have just the right sized mouth to accommodate the familiar ring and lid used in regular Ball jar canning.

Great update on plastics. Remember, you can also use your empty paper dog food bags for a trash bag and that Walmart sells cloth grocery bags for $1.00

mbk
polythenepam

been boycotting plastic trash for years now - for loads of UK based compostable alternatives check out my blog www.plasticisrubbish.wordpress.com

polythenepam

been boycotting plastic trash for years now - for loads of UK based compostable alternatives check out my blog www.plasticisrubbish.wordpress.com

Project GreenBag

Project GreenBag is the sustainable, eco-friendly alternative to plastic bags. 100% organic cotton, biodegradable, affordable, and made in San Francisco California.

http://www.ProjectGreenBag.com

http://www.facebook.com/ProjectGreenBag

http://twitter.com/projectgreenbag

Project GreenBag

Project GreenBag is the sustainable, eco-friendly alternative to plastic bags. 100% organic cotton, biodegradable, affordable, and made in San Francisco California.

http://www.ProjectGreenBag.com

http://www.facebook.com/ProjectGreenBag

http://twitter.com/projectgreenbag

Project GreenBag

Project GreenBag is the sustainable, eco-friendly alternative to plastic bags. 100% organic cotton, biodegradable, affordable, and made in San Francisco California.

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