Steamboat Springs In honor of Earth Day, April 22, we offer this list of easy ways to improve the health of our planet. Nothing here is expensive or difficult; we hope you will find some ideas that are new to you and that you’ll put into practice. Although many contaminants plague our earth, one of the worst is plastic; that’s our focus today.
Movie buffs may remember the scene in “The Graduate” when a young Dustin Hoffman is told, “One word, my boy, one word only: Plastics. The future is in plastics.” Well, the future is here, and plastics are not the miracle they seemed in the ’60s. In the environment, plastics last forever; they never biodegrade. One example is the “gyre.” Gyres are patches of oceanic garbage; they are swirling vortexes of plastic bits. From the Algalita Marine Research Foundation, we learned that “The North Pacific Gyre is expanding at such a rate that it has grown from the size of the state of Texas to twice the size of the continental United States.” Albatross chicks on a nearby island are fed regurgitated food from their parents who have fed on the North Pacific Gyre. Since the parents consume so much plastic, the chicks’ stomachs fill with the plastic they receive from the parents and they die of malnutrition and toxic chemicals before they ever leave their island (http://www.algalita.org/).
What was once thought to be revolutionary lightweight, unbreakable food storage, is now proven to contaminate the very food it stores. Some plastics are more dangerous than others. For a complete analysis of the specific chemicals and their precise effects on our health, visit http://www.healthobservatory.org. For this commentary, a summary of these dangers will suffice. Chemicals leach from plastic into food when the plastic is heated, exposed to moisture or cleaned with harsh cleaners. These chemicals can cause the following: hormonal changes that cause early puberty, decreased sperm production and prostate enlargement; damage to the liver, spleen, kidneys and bone formation; and disorders of the brain and nervous system in plastic factory workers. These chemicals also can cause cancer.
So for the health of our oceans, our planet and ourselves, it is worth considering ways to avoid the use of plastic as much as possible:
■ Use stainless steel water bottles without plastic liners.
■ Use glass or ceramic containers for food storage. This is a great way to recycle glass jars without having to ship and crush them first.
■ Pack sandwiches in waxed paper sandwich bags available at health food stores.
■ Pack fresh fruit for lunches rather than plastic bottles of fruit juice. If the fruit is left whole, more nutrients are preserved, and you don’t need to pack it in anything.
■ If you do use plastic food containers, don’t heat them in a microwave or wash them in a dishwasher.
■ Bring your own reusable containers to restaurants for take-home portions. Restaurants often serve more than needed, so you’ll save money, lose weight and help our planet all at the same time.
■ Use fabric bags for all kinds of shopping.
■ Buy products in bulk when possible and bring your own containers. In addition to foods such as grains, flours, nuts and granola, you also can buy shampoo, hair conditioner, maple syrup, oils and honey in bulk. Your used plastic shampoo bottles can continue to function instead of being thrown away or recycled after just one use.
■ Avoid using plastic produce bags at the grocery store; put produce directly into your fabric bag.
■ Instead of buying meat wrapped in plastic on a plastic tray, buy it wrapped in paper from the butcher counter.
■ Use and reuse the plastic bags you do have.
■ Give up chewing gum (did you know it’s made with plastic?).
■ Use stainless steel or cast iron cookware instead of the nonstick variety. Soaking a frying pan in baking soda makes it just as easy to clean, and you avoid having those bits of Teflon and chemicals in your next stir-fry.
Our health and the health of the earth are totally interrelated. Anything we do to avoid plastic contaminants for ourselves is a boon to the health of the earth, and vice versa. Let’s protect our future babies from the fate of today’s albatross chicks. Let’s celebrate this beautiful planet on Earth Day by incorporating these modest changes into our lives. Let’s nurture and care for this Earth that we call home.
Abbott and Lewis tend the Earth in Steamboat Springs. They are active members of the Routt County Democratic Party.