Tom Szaky and Albe Zakes, the eco-entrepreneurs behind global recycling company TerraCycle, have a pretty unique take on trash. Their new book, Make Garbage Great, explores the history of human waste and presents some creative ideas to make less of it in the future. Here's what they have to say about plastic.
Human beings manufacture nearly 200 billion pounds of plastic every year. To really grasp that figure, consider these facts: there are also about 200 billion stars in the Milky Way and approximately the same number of galaxies in the entire universe.
We are endangering the long-term well-being of the planet because of a desire for short-term wealth and material objects. As a consumer, the power to purchase is directly in your hands. Here are five plastic products everyone should be avoiding.
1. Microbead soap
Face wash, soap, and body scrub products are often made with tiny little plastic pellets called microbeads, and they can easily get into our waterways. Lake Ontario alone was found to have 2.8 million of these plastic beads per square mile, and marine life can fatally confuse them for fish eggs, an underwater delicacy.
2. Styrofoam containers
Cities and towns around the world are banning Styrofoam food containers, and for good reason. When heated, they can leach chemicals into foods and drinks. Styrofoam, or expanded polystyrene, can leach a chemical called styrene into hot liquids like tea, or food heated in the microwave. High quantities of styrene can actually even act as a neurotoxin to humans.
3. Products containing PVC
Polyvinyl chloride is a common type of plastic, identified by a #3 and the letters "PVC." It can be found in many products like shower curtain liners, plumbing, and plastic school supplies like pencil cases. Vinyl chloride, used to make PVC, is listed as a known carcinogen by the World Health Organization and the EPA.
Chemicals called phthalates are also commonly used to make PVC less rigid, but can interfere with hormone function in humans, especially children. As of 2009 in the U.S., phthalates have been banned in children's toys, but not in other high-exposure products like school supplies.
4. Disposable dishware
While single-use plastic utensils and dishes make cleaning up a breeze, they are in fact some of the most wasteful products you can purchase.
It's even been estimated that Americans use nearly 100 million plastic utensils each day, and considering these utensils are rarely recycled, most are destined for the landfill. Reusable dishes or cutlery made out of metal or ceramic are almost always the more eco-friendly option, as they can be reused for many years.
5. Bottled water
Most developed countries have free access to clean water, yet people spend $100 billion on bottled water every year. It would be one thing if the majority of this consumption came from nations with limited access to clean water, but that's not entirely the case. The U.S., Germany, Italy, and France are all among the top per capita consumers of bottled water in the world. Even more water and energy is required to manufacture the plastic bottles themselves, which, of course, never truly break down.