Plastics man offers tips

Plastics, plastics. My column on Monday about four Rodale editors who were trying to lessen their use for a week has gotten a lot of response.

Many readers would like to emulate them.  Another guy thought they should get a life. "Face it," he said, "plastics are everywhere." Well, that was kind of the point. And the editors decided that a realistic goal would be to not try to avoid them altogether, but just be more conscious of what they were using and, as a result, use less.

West Chester's Craig Blizzard has spent his career in plastics, and he commented with what is probably the most thought-provoking response I got. He has three tenets of plastic use. Here's what he wrote:

First, if one wishes to reduce personal plastic consumption for solid waste reasons, immediately stop consuming things which overuse plastic packaging since not many humans actually consume plastics per se. Glaring examples include soft drinks/beer at the stadium in heavy polypropylene cups, fast food pre-packaged salads in glossy polystyrene plates and lids, windshield wipers in their annoying polyvinyl chloride sleeve packages and TV sets, etc. swathed in polystyrene and polyethylene foam.

Second, if one wishes to reduce personal plastic consumption for personal health reasons such as a fear of any detectable level of plastic additive migration, stop consuming things packed/conveyed in plastics altogether. Every plastic can be made to exfoliate its chemical additives under some set of (possibly extreme) laboratory conditions if that’s what the researcher wants to demonstrate. Under normal usage of most things plastic, my scientific sense suggests that our breathing of the exhaust emissions from our >150 million vehicle fleet in North America is likely to be order-of-magnitude more damaging to individual health than any plastic additive migration and that one’s use of plastics is relatively riskless.

Third, if one wishes to reduce personal plastic consumption for energy conservation reasons, better and easier to reduce personal auto travel by 5-10%. The energy conservation by that action would likely dwarf the total energy content of the amount of plastics even the “greenest” person could reasonably save by meticulously reducing his/her consumption. Plastics are not a “low hanging fruit” in energy conservation. (Response from Sandy: What about both?)

Each of these tenets involves a tradeoff usually economic. We use plastic to save time and money. If that savings is irrelevant/unattractive to a given individual, so be it.

Thank you, Craig Blizzard!