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7 Dangerous Lies About Plastic

Big Plastic is big money and survives regulatory scrutiny by creating big spin. Here's what you need to know.

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There's another problem with plastic bag recyclability. According to Mark Daniels of Hilex Poly, only 30-percent post-consumer HDPE can be used to make a new bag, which means 70 percent of a "recycled" plastic bag comes from virgin sources (natural gas). Sometimes, recycled HDPE gets down-cycled into other products like decking materials. The problem here is that plastic decking materials have a lifespan as well, and no strategy for reclaiming them at the end of their lifespan has been introduced to the recycling markets.

When speaking of plastics in general (including plastic bags), even when there is a modest gain in recycling rates, those rates are far outpaced by higher consumption. From 2009 to 2010, plastics generated in the municipal waste stream jumped from 59,660,000 to 62,080,000 pounds. This is an increase of 2,420,000 pounds. In terms of recycling gains, the EPA reports 440,000 more pounds of all plastics recovered from 2009 to 2010.

So, if we subtract the increase in gains in recovery from the increase in generation we still get an increase of plastic generation of 1,980,000 pounds. This is the central conspiracy of the plastics industry tactically. If industry can convince the public that the environmental consequences of their consumption habits are offset by the industry-backed solution of recycling, industry is guaranteed that its bottom line will grow by hoodwinking the public into believing the myth of recycling.

What about natural gas, the stock for plastic bags? It is becoming scarcer and dirtier to get. According to the US Energy Information Administration, 35 percent of domestic natural gas drilling comes from fracking, and will reach 47 percent by 2035. Though natural gas burns cleaner than other fossil fuels, getting it out of the ground by fracking creates potent greenhouse gas emissions of methane and other undesired consequences. According to a congressional report released in April, the 14 biggest fracking companies released 3 billion liters of fracking fluid into the environment, including 29 chemicals known or suspected to be carcinogenic to humans. This is where your plastic bag comes from -- or at least 70 pecent of it.

Lie #6: Reusable bags are dangerous.

The American Chemistry Council is worried that Americans might not understand the danger of things when they get dirty. Like your underwear, if you don't wash your reusable bag, bacteria might grow in it. So, rather than issue a press release telling people to wash their bags, they funded a study looking at bacterial contamination of reusable bags.

Bacteria are myriad on everything we touch, but the presence of bacteria is natural and the microbe kingdom has a pretty good system of checks and balances. The study found that 12 percent of its 84-bag sample size found E. coli, and all samples but one contained bacteria. This finding spawned scary headlines in newspapers such as the Washington Post that read "Reusable Bags Found To Be Full Of Bacteria." But here's the problem: None of the bacteria (salmonella and listeria were not found), or the strains of E. coli present in reusable bags are harmful to humans.

The ACC, though absolutely knowing this, still went ahead on a PR blitz trying to scare the hell out of people about bacterial exposure. Thankfully, the study was officially debunked by Consumer Reports. My favorite bit from the article comes from a senior staff scientist at Consumer Reports, who said, "A person eating an average bag of salad greens gets more exposure to these bacteria than if they had licked the insides of the dirtiest bag from this study."

 
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