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February 10, 2012 at 1:50 PMComments: 4 Faves: 1

Plastic: The Bad, the Better, and the Best News

By Laura Hogg More Blogs by This AuthorFrom the NatuREport Blog Series

I have to say, I got kind of freaked out after writing last week’s post about all the plastic in our oceans. I had already decided long ago that when I have kids sometime down the road, I don’t want them to have piles of plastic toys – though I didn’t really have much more than a vague sense of why plastic is so bad for the environment. But since finding out how it’s affecting our planet (and our own health), I’ve been super paranoid about every plastic fork and every plastic bag I use.

And there is definitely cause for concern. Since it doesn’t biodegrade, plastic is a huge problem – one that’s been in the news a decent amount lately. I’ll start with the bad news first, but stick with me, because I promise there’s a glimmer of hope at the end.

The Bad: The Garbage Patch Kids?

Remember last week when I said that the idea that there’s a floating mass of garbage the size of Texas in the Pacific Ocean is actually a myth? Turns out it might actually be true. Or not. Nobody really knows, because there’s just so much of it out there.

Meet the Great Pacific Garbage Patch:



It’s been described as a “galaxy of garbage” – and not because it’s breathtakingly beautiful. (It might take your breath away for other reasons, though.) Instead of being one behemoth garbage continent, it’s made up of billions of trash islands – some of them floating, some hidden underwater – spread throughout the ocean.

“Maybe if you added them all up it's the size of Texas, but we still don't know,” says Holly Bamford, director of NOAA’s Marine Debris Program. “It could be bigger than Texas."

So, besides the obvious, what’s the problem? Unsurprisingly, the garbage patch is mostly made of plastic. And besides the fact that it actually enters the food chain, eventually ending up on our plates, plastic can also do things like this:



It also releases toxins that have been linked to numerous health problems in humans. So, there’s that.

The Better: Ways to Recycle

But wait! Even though plastic doesn’t biodegrade, there are things you can do – like recycle. I know, it sounds trite. Everyone knows you’re supposed to recycle (even if we don’t always actually do it – I count myself among the guilty here). But I’ve recently come across some pretty ingenious ways to recycle plastic containers. Things like:

Using plastic bottles as organizers. Whether it be pins, paper clips, or even spices, little plastic bottles make perfect organizers. I’m always losing my bobby pins; a pill bottle would be perfect!

Using plastic bags as packing material. I know bubble wrap is hard to resist, but instead of buying a roll when you need to ship something, use plastic bags as padding.

Using pill bottles as travel-sized toiletry containers. I really wish I had thought of this one when I was traveling abroad – it would have been cheaper and easier than buying little bottles for my shampoo and conditioner!

These are just small things you can try to do your part in the fight against plastic. But this week, there’s something in the news that is a much better fighter than you…

The Best: A Plastic-Eating Fungus

Yep, you read that right. A team of researchers from Yale have discovered a very special fungus deep in the South American rainforest: a fungus that can live entirely on plastic, even in the absence of oxygen (as in the bottom of a landfill).

As this is an incredibly recent discovery, details on the fungus are still scarce – as is information on any potential plans for how exactly one would go about procuring large enough amounts of this fungus to make a dent in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. But one of the researchers has isolated the enzyme necessary to degrade the plastic.

So maybe we the Garbage Patch won’t become our 8th continent after all. (But I’m still not buying plastic toys for my future kids.)

What do you think? Is this the fungus that could change the world? What do you do to recycle your plastic?


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  • That turtle photo is one of the saddest things I've seen. I've heard about the dangers of plastic soda rings and making sure to cut them so fish and birds don't get caught in them, but this is one of those consequences of people not thinking about what happens when things get thrown away.

  • Totally agree too Dave. That turtle photo is so sad!

    A plastic-eating fungus would be revolutionary. There are so many mounds of plastic just waiting for something to disintegrate them and if that fungus really can do that...well lets get going!

    To recycle plastic, I either put it in the recycle bin we have at our house and the recycling truck comes and takes it every other week or I try and re-use plastic bags as lunch bags for as long as I can.

    I'd love to start making stuff out of plastic, but just don't have the talent for that yet. My friends, on the other hand, made us coasters out of plastic bags (they look pretty cool) and I durable plastic bag out of different plastic bags as well. We use it when we go to the beach or when we take a trip somewhere.

  • Recycling plastic isn't the answer, it's better than trashing it, but we really need to hugely reduce how much is produced and to do that, we need to stop buying it. It may be hard to believe, but plastic bags weren't used until 40 years ago and now 500 billion are used every year. If we lived without them before, why can't we now?

  • I've seen people make rugs or mats out of plastic bags. Sounds weird but it works. I've purchased a couple of cloth grocery bags, now it's just a matter of remembering to bring them into the store when I go shopping.

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