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Just One Word….Plastics

2009 November 12

I still remember the brief exchange in the 1967 movie “The Graduate.” The actor Walter Brooke insisted on giving the young Dustin Hoffman one piece of advice: “Plastics….There’s a great future in plastics….” I guess this just shows my age. However, I still recall the time when most of the containers for household detergents and common hygiene products were made of glass instead of the more commonly used plastics that we see nowadays. During the past decades, advances in the petrochemical industry have led to positive uses for plastics in the fields of medicine, construction, automotive, packaging, and many others. The innovative usage of plastics has fundamentally changed our world. Unfortunately, its proliferation has had unintended consequences.

Today, plastics are a constant in our lives. From beverage containers, household items to packaging, plastics are everywhere. Ultimately, many of these items are discarded on a daily basis and they end up as trash in our landfills or oceans. For example, in the year 2007, almost 12.1 percent of the total municipal solid waste in the United States came from 31 million tons of plastics. Since plastics do not easily break down into simpler components, they become virtually everlasting in the environment. Increasing awareness of the situation is just the first step in addressing the problem. Recycling deals with just one area. Technological advances are only part of the solution.

That brings me to another aspect of the preponderance of plastics: their toll on the environment. The adverse effects of plastics are not solely related to the tonnage of plastic debris produced yearly. Moreover, the negative impacts on human health and the environment stem from some of the chemicals added to plastics during the manufacturing process.  Recently, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson outlined the Obama Administration’s principles for reforming the legislation commonly known as TSCA, the 1976 Toxic Substance Control Act.  In a recent speech at the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco, Administrator Lisa P. Jackson spoke of the need to fix the weaknesses in TSCA with a new chemical risk management law. The planets seem to be aligning in the right direction. Important players in government, the private sector, health and environmental organizations all seem to agree that the time for reform is now.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and chairs EPA’s Multilingual Communications Task Force. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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9 Responses leave one →
  1. Jimmy permalink
    November 12, 2009

    Yes thats true,plastics hold much in our daily lives,but we should try out means of decreasing destroying our environment,if the use of plastic is really necessary,lets take precaution and if purchased try to use them more than once before we throw them away to decrease the amount of its garbage and protect our environment. Also we can try another alternatives as paperbags,why not?

  2. Jackenson Durand permalink
    November 12, 2009

    About the Author, the main interest that brings me to the EPA dialogue table for the first time has been my concern pragmatic in this plastic debris matter.
    I grew up in one of the Caribbean Island where we were used observing a wonder of a nature eco-systemic attractive the worldwide by the Geographical location mountainous.
    Soon after, the year of 1985 in this Island history; starting the age of plastic debris and pollution. Almost, all coastal areas are preoccupied by plastic debris, unable to get access to any beach.
    Could we bring history back again?
    I think that the real human value would probably be the difference.

  3. Amaree permalink
    November 12, 2009

    You’re also right, recycle every piece of plastic that’s possible because it will have an important effect on our planet in the long run. And for paper bags, well those are fine alternatives as well except paper bags can also be recycled & since there are many people who don’t even recycle plastics what difference will the paper bags make…?

  4. armansyahardanis permalink
    November 13, 2009

    I think the human will be learn about their problem and try to solve it.
    We hope, next time better, the people should can say :
    ” Just One word ………… Paradise “

  5. Scott permalink
    November 13, 2009

    Not only are plastics an environmental problem-they may be killing us! A substance known as BPA (or Bisphenol-A) is a known carcinogen and is used to coat the insides of food cans and plastic containers. In a recent Consumer Reports article, they advise never to cook in the provided microwaveable containers. Also, BPA is banned in Japan and is being considered to be outlawed in other countries. It is too bad the greedy plastics industry is more concerned with money than human health. The plastics industry lobbies the U.S. government to keep this known carcinogen in our food supply. Our government is criminally negligent, in my opinion, for not immediately banning BPA. The health of the American people is at least as important as landfills.

  6. Johnny R. permalink
    November 16, 2009

    If the nations of the World could agree to work toward 100% recycling of all waste and garbage they might avoid the coming toxic collapse, but they appear more focused on “getting the economy back on track and growing again”, thus producing even more plastic debris before they even decide how to recycle it.

  7. webcam permalink
    November 17, 2009

    Thats true there are many benefits from plastics but at the same time negative side is also there.As in our life plastics play a big role like drinking water from plastic bottles has become popular.Many people are hesitant to drink water from their faucets after harmful minerals were found in some wells. Like most health trends, humans have taken the fad to excess and it is having a negative effect on the planet and human bodies

  8. Grace G permalink
    November 23, 2009

    While plastic products are great for our daily lives, the toll they take on the environment is so harmful. Since people are not going to stop buying things like bottled water, they need to check the water bottle they are buying to see if it was made with less plastic. Many bottles are being made with less plastic so they are thinner and better for the environment than other thicker bottles. Also, buying a reusable plastic bottle would be beneficial. That way people could have their bottle, but keep using the same one. And, most of those bottles are BPA free!

  9. Joe P permalink
    November 23, 2009

    I recently took a trip to Rwanda, where they do not even allow you to bring non-biodegradable plastic bag in to their country. While this may sound extreme, I believe this is just a developing country that recognizes the harm of the overuse of plastic. Plastic is one of those things that has made everyone’s life easier in one way or another, but I think a lot of people are finally starting to realize that adverse effect it has on the environment is not necissarily worth the ease it adds to our life. While a devoloping country like Rwanda may find it easy to never get started with plastics, it will be difficult for America to reverse its depency on it.

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