I hate plastic. So much so that I believe were I to be crawling across the desert, cartoonlike, dying of thirst, and I came across a Coke machine that only had plastic bottles, and I actually had $1.25 in quarters, I would have to have a serious conversation with myself before I actually decided whether dying was not better than buying a plastic bottle of Diet Coke or Dasani. My husband hates driving with me on long trips because I am constantly pointing out the plastic bags in the trees and skipping along the roadsides. (Well, that, and the fact that I have very odd taste in music, and I always force him to listen to my CDs or Ipod, which is kind of just because he is always forcing me to watch basketball games between teams I don’t care about on the only one of our two tvs that has a DVR.)

By the way, the next time you drive anywhere, make it a point to pay attention to the trash on the roadsides. It will forever ruin you.

So, I’m watching some ridiculous – but oddly fascinating – event during the Olympics last night, and a commercial comes on for Beneful dog food (or dog fud, as I have spelled it ever since that Far Side cartoon with the cat and the clothes dryer and the dog, where the cat has written “Dog Fud” with an arrow to the dryer door, and the cat is thinking, “Oh, please. Oh, please.”) But I digress.

Beneful was advertising single servings, packed into lovely little plastic bowls. Like it’s too freakin’ hard to actually open a bag of dog fud and actually put said dog fud into a bowl. I would have thrown a shoe into the tv, but it happens to be the one with the DVR, which I was only watching because my husband is out of town.

And that got me to thinking about the plastic that we buy on virtually a daily basis, plastic that is not easily recycled and that can live, like Dick Cheney, far past its actual usefulness. We go to the Publix, and we check out with plastic bags full of tomatoes, lettuce, string beans and broccoli. And that’s not counting the meal-in-a-minute prepared crap or the ketchup bottles or the barbecue sauce or the plastic bags that all the other plastic bags eventually go in, so that you can tote them to your car.  I personally use cloth bags, and, if ever I forget to take them into the store with me, I tell the store clerk to just put everything back in the buggy for transfer to the forgotten cloth bags in the car. And I feel sad when I see the customer schlepping a buggy filled with 30 plastic bags, some of which contain just one package of chicken breasts.

Many countries, including Ireland, Italy, South Africa, Eritrea, Rwanda, Kenya, Switzerland, Australia and Belgium have either banned plastic bags altogether or begun charging a fee for their use. Bangladesh banned the lightweight plastic bags in 2002, when studies showed that the drainage system, which contributed heavily to damage from floods, was clogged with them. In the US, San Francisco has banned their use, but other cities attempting to do so have run up against powerful lobbies like the Progressive Bag Alliance (funded by the plastics and polymer  industries), the American Chemistry Council and, wait for it, Walmart, which was fighting the bag ban at the same time it was attempting to sell itself as a ”green” company.

It’s all well and good to say that we aren’t part of the problem because we recycle our plastic, but the fact remains that very little (about 27 percent of plastic bottles, for instance) are actually recycled. In 2008, volunteers for Keep America Beautiful’s Great American Cleanup collected 189 million plastic bottles from highways, waterways and parks.

In fact, just because you put a piece of plastic into your recycling bin does not mean that it will be recycled. Check out The Ecology Center’s seven misconceptions about plastics recycling: http://www.ecologycenter.org/ptf/misconceptions.html. Number three says, “A chasing arrows symbol means a plastic container is recyclable. The arrows are meaningless. Every plastic container is marked with the chasing arrows symbol. The only information in the symbol is the number inside the arrows, which indicates the general class of resin used to make the container. The attorneys general of 11 states objected to false and misleading claims about plastic recyclability. The recent settlement that they reached with the American Plastics Council paves the way for a first-ever definition of what claims can or cannot be made about plastic recycling and recyclability.”

Plastics are fast becoming one of the world’s deadliest trashes. In 1997, sailor Charles Moore, returning home after a sailing race, came upon what is now called “The Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” a sea of mostly plastic garbage that some say could be larger than the continental US. “I was confronted, as far as the eye could see, with the sight of plastic.,” Moore later wrote in an article for Natural History. “It seemed unbelievable, but I never found a clear spot. In the week it took to cross the subtropical high, no matter what time of day I looked, plastic debris was floating everywhere: bottles, bottle caps, wrappers, fragments.” No one knows just how big it actually is, because plastics tend to break down into small particles that never become benign and remain deadly to marine and bird life for decades.

There are numerous accounts of chick mortality among albatrosses and other seagoing birds because of parents ingesting bottle caps,  fishing line and other detritus to their young, which then, because the plastic clogs their innards, die of starvation.

Sea turtles, too, die when they ingest floating plastic bags that look like the jellyfish they feed on. So do dolphins, seals and other marine mammals.

Moore eventually founded the Algalita Marine Research Foundation, which organized the JUNK Raft project to raise awareness about plastic pollution of the oceans. According to his research there was six times more plastic in Great Pacific Garbage Patch than the zooplankton that feeds ocean life. Another study, in 2002, showed that plastic outweighed zooplankton by a factor of 2.5 off the coast of California.

Yet, somehow, we keep being bombarded with new products that are plastic-bound. Chicken now comes in “individually sized portions,” each in its own plastic cocoon. Try buying a bottle of ketchup or jar of mayonnaise or peanut butter in something other than plastic. It’s “convenient.” It’s “easy.” It’s also killing seabirds and marine life. So next time you go to the store, pay attention. You will not be able to completely get plastic out of your life. But you can make some changes that may save an albatross. Here are my suggestions:

Use cloth bags at the grocery store, the Target, the Lowes, the Home Depot.

If you don’t have cloth bags, just carry the items to your car in a buggy. Most of what you buy can be easily transferred to your car sans plastic bags and carried into your house.

Don’t put three tomatoes in their own plastic bag. Use your cloth bag.

Don’t buy drinks in plastic bottles. Aluminum is much more easily recycled.

Don’t buy Beneful “single servings.”

Write to Beneful (Purina) and every other company you see marketing products in plastic that don’t need to be in plastic. Tell them you won’t buy anything unnecessarily packaged in plastic.

The birds, turtles and dolphins will thank you.

Janet Ward

Janet Ward

Janet is a long-time Atlantan, grammar and punctuation Nazi and public relations manager whose hobby is hating Republicans. There is not enough room to list her various jobs, but she is currently happy in her position with the City of Atlanta, where she spends much of her time explaining to water/sewer customers that, if they let their toilets run, they should expect their bills to be high. Janet lives in Candler Park with her husband, Jack Wilkinson, a likethedew contributor, their dog, Jack (hey, he’s a rescue. He came with the name.) and Rosie the Cat, named, of course, for the Springsteen song. She has an inexplicable thing for the Monkees.