Folks, this is about my "consumption" of plastic over the next year. I'm looking at what I have, what I buy, and why I seem to need this hundred and fifty year old man-made concoction more than my mother's fried chicken.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Week 11: LDPE (#4)

I found this interesting excerpt from the American Plastics Council's website (which is a division of the American Chemistry Council):

MYTH: Our city would be solving its litter problem by banning plastic bags.

REALITY: In effect, banning recyclable plastic bags will not significantly reduce litter or the amount of waste in our sewers and landfills. Litter problems must be addressed directly by targeting littering and providing recycling and waste bins. Banning a certain product will only cause a switch from one form of litter to another. There is no such thing as environmentally preferable litter. Such approaches merely create new problems.

Keep in mind that the members of the APC include Advance Polybag, Inc., The Dow Chemical Company, Exxonmobil Corporation, Hilex Poly Co., LLC, Inteplast, Superbag Corporation, and Total Petrochemicals USA, Inc. Advance Polybag HQ is close to where I grew up (not to mention a few of these other members). Located in Sugarland, TX, they are one of the largest manufacturers of plastic bags in the world and the only hint of environmental responsibility I could find on their website was an association with NextLife Recycling in an effort to make plastic stepping stones out of recycled bags. However, I discovered that NextLife is no longer in business. However, they do work with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children by printing photos of the missing on their bags. Hilex Poly Co. is a little greener to the eye. They acknowledge that litter is an issue and that only 5% of plastic bags are actually recycled and they offer concrete solutions to dealing with the issues (unlike most politicians!) Bottom line? It seems from everyone's current home pages--even Exxonmobil that being socially and environmentally responsible is (at the very least) on their radar.

Obviously it is easy for me to sit in judgment of all these big corporations and accuse them all of greenwashing. The truth is...I just don't know what to believe anymore. Sheesh...have I already started my diatribe?

Let's focus on the LDPE at hand...
LDPE, numero cuatro, low-density polyethylene. According to one website, #4 is the most widely used plastic due to it's flexibility, durability, chemical resistance, and cost. How do we apply thee? Let me count the ways:
  • coating on paper, textiles, & other plastics ("Tetra-pak" used for some milk, rice, soy, almond milk containers, maybe all my corn chip bags too...)
  • various disposable bowls, lids, etc.
  • packaging film (you know, like the thin stuff you peel off of chicken, cheese, & tons of other crap wrapped in filmy plastic goodness)
  • shrink wrap
  • disposable diaper flaps
  • bread bags
  • honey bear bottles
  • power cables
  • caps & closures
  • garment bags
  • disposable table "cloths"
  • stand-up transparent zip pouches (I think I get my dog's treats in these types of bags--Trader Joe's carries a lot of their products in these!)
  • cycling water bottles
  • toys
  • various lab containers & bags (biohazard bags)
  • lip gloss wands
  • garbage bags & other bin liners
  • play pit balls (you know, like the plastic ball "pool" at Chucky Cheese? I've always wanted to know this!)
  • "Caution wet floor" cones (Cuidado piso mojado!)
  • traffic cones
  • bubble wrap ("Bubbles! Bubbles! Bubbles!")
  • coffee cup inner coating (your coffee cup is not really recyclable by the way--hate to burst your LDPE bubble)
  • plastic bags
  • safety flotation rings
  • outdoor repair tape
  • medical shoe coverings
  • heavy duty plastic drums
  • wet ports (What is a wet port, you ask? Something we clearly CANNOT live without. You can ask me to cut corners during wartime, but I ain't givin' up my wet port!)
  • packing foam sheets (usually what you get when you buy new electronics)
  • Heatsheet emergency survival blanket
  • ...and anything else you see at the grocery and wonder, "I wonder what kind of plastic this wrap is". Chances are, it's probably LDPE.
LDPE is the free spirit of the plastics family. Their make up is such that they branch out, they go with the flow, and may be less confined to structure, but have a varied skill set, which makes them more resilient, but not a good candidate for redundant reuse. Ah yes, a new ice breaker at staff retreats: "If I were a plastic, I would be number blah, blah, blah because of it's refusal to be broken down by even the toughest challenges."

We use 2 kg of oil for every 1 kg of LDPE we produce and not surprisingly, the US & China tie for first in consuming almost half of the world's LDPE. W. Europe comes in as a close second. The world market for LDPE is projected to reach 20 million metric tons by 2012. According to my animal conversion calculator, that is the equivalent of 150,000 blue whales OR 73 million gorillas. (As a side note, we only have about 100,000 actual gorillas left in the world)

All this animal conversion calculating makes me think of a wise old sage...
What would Dr. Seuss say? Let us imagine...

I do not like those plastic bags...
They seem to make the turtles gag.

I do not like them in a tree.
I do not like them blowing free.
I do not like them in a store.
I do not like them anymore!

I do not like this plastic crap...
From drinking straws to bubble wrap.

I do not like them in a boat.
I do not like them in a goat.
I do not like them as they float.
I do not like them in my coat!
I do not like them on a floor,
I do not like them anymore!

Not on a beach
Or with a peach.
Not in the air
Or in my hair.
Not in a drain
Or in a plane.
Not in a turtle
Not even a nurdle.

I do not like these plastic things...
Or all the piles of waste it brings.
I do not like them for the earth
I have not liked them since my birth!

I do not like them
So I say...
but I still use them every day!
So, if I look and dig real deep
Will I learn from what I keep?

Yes, I'll learn!
Yes, I say!
My plastic never goes away...

So, if I keep it
I will see
just how much I think I "need".

Stay tuned for next week's photo of my entire plastics collection!


Stefanie said...

Hey, don't knock them wet ports--if you are out on the water all damn day, and need to git yer boat out to stop those dern barnacles from sproutin', wet ports can come in handy.

Not that I use 'em, they're for wusses--yanno, people who don't like getting their feets wet. Not for hearty sea folk. We pull our boats out by hand, uphill both ways!!

(Can I link to your blog? You can link to mine though it has little to do with plastic--other than all of my equipment is totally dependent on the stuff)

Cap't Stefanie

Sunnye said...

I think wet ports look particularly suitable for a chicken fight: Stef vs. Sunnye.

Yeah they should call them wussy wave runner ports. I ain't skeered uh no barnickles.

Indeed--let's link our blogs so they can be BBFF.

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