Understanding plastic usage

One of my college friends posed an interesting question whether we (our friends circle) are doing what is possible to save our planet Earth?

When one of your friends is so passionate about doing the right thing, it sort of rubs off on you. She mentioned that some plastic takes 600+ years to decompose, should we use them? That triggered me to think about what we use and how much of it is harmful? I started reading about the types of plastics and this is what I learned!

How much of plastic do we use?

There are 60 million plastic bottles that end up in landfills / incinerators every day, that is 22 billion last year

In 2018, landfills received 27 million tons of plastic

We produce 380 million tons of plastic every year, and about 50% of them are for single-use only.

Type of plastics

Source -> https://infographicjournal.com/7-types-of-plastics-their-toxicity-what-theyre-most-commonly-used-for/

1. PET / PETE – polyethylene terephthalate

Broadly, household bottles, jars, combs, ropes, bags usually fall in this category.

When this plastic sits on a shelf for long, the Antimony and Bromine in the plastic leeches onto the contents. These two elements are known to act as central nervous system depressants causing psychological symptoms.

Recycling them is possible.

Can be recycled into garments, carpets, bean bags, furniture and recycled plastic bottles

What can we do?
  1. After using them – wash and put it in the recyclable bins for the city to collect it
  2. Try recycling them ourselves – would be nice creative projects that can be picked up while at home

2. HDPE – high density polyethylene

Broadly, milk cartons, motor oil containers, soap/detergent/bleach bottles, planting pots, cereal box liners, toys fall in this category.

Recycling them is possible.

Can be recycled into outdoor equipment/furniture, fencing etc.

What can we do?
  1. After using the containers, wash and put it in the recyclable bins for the city to collect it
  2. Donate old toys to the salvation army / nearby stores.

3. PVC – polyvinyl chloride

Broadly, plumbing pipes, credit cards, windows, doors/frames, cooking oil bottles, synthetic/leather products, some children/pet toys gutters fall in this category.

These chemicals are harmful and direct continued exposure can potentially disrupt hormonal balance and trigger chronic health conditions like cancer, autism, allergies etc.

Suggested to have only experts figure out how to recycle them.

What can we do?

For broken pipes or gutter changes, have contractors come and remove the debris. Usually apartment communities or townhouse communities have recyclable bins to accommodate these. For others, look for city specific guidelines on how to dispose these.

4. LDPE – low density polyethylene

Broadly, plastic wraps, sandwich bags, squeezable bottles, plastic bags at grocery stores, garbage bags, food storage containers, bubble wraps, hot and cold beverage cups fall in this category.

These chemicals can disrupt hormones and potentially alter the structure of human cells.

This is one of the least recyclable plastics.

What can we do?

Avoid them as much as you can. There are always alternatives available. Look for those and setup a process. Using lunch boxes instead of plastic wraps or sandwich bags, using paper bags at grocery stores, using mugs instead of beverage cups would be a good start.

5. PP – polypropylene

Broadly, bottle tops, chips bags, yoghurt/sour cream containers, drinking straws, packing tape, diapers/sanitary liners, hinged lunch boxes, thermal vests, fabric liners fall in this category.

As it can withstand higher temperatures, it is considered safer option for foods. Some PP could however leach chemicals that can lead to asthma or hormone disruption.

Recycling is possible, however majority ends up in a landfill.

What can we do?
  1. Make sure you recycle these. Setup separate recyclable bins at home to recycle these regularly.
  2. Avoid throwing it in a trash bin or mixing with general garbage

6. PS – polystyrene (Styrofoam)

Broadly, disposable foam cups, egg cartons, coat hangers, insulation, packing peanuts, low-cost brittle toys, video cases, seed trays fall in this category.

While recycling options are not widely available for these, they can be recycled into egg cartons, home decor products, and different types of insulation.

What can we do?
  1. Make sure you do not use Styrofoam cups for drinking hot liquids. Harmful.
  2. Drop off the video cases as e-Waste
  3. Packing peanuts, coat hangers and insulation can be reused by movers. Check for your local moving companies who accept these. Reusing them is better.

7. Others

Broadly, baby bottles, multi-gallon water bottles, eye glasses, medical storage containers fall in this category.

As this category usually has a list of all the plastic items that cannot be fit into other categories. So, it is hard to determine whether or not they are recyclable.

What can we do?
  1. Donate your used eye glasses.
  2. If you use multi-gallon water bottles at office – check for the reuse programs that they offer and utilize them

Awareness about what we are consuming and how it impacts us and our future generations is key to trigger a change.

It is a journey that requires lifestyle changes, but taking small steps towards doing the right thing seems possible.

Other resources you might find helpful

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