Plastic Monday: Say No to “Stupid Plastic”

Submitted by aatkins on October 29, 2011

We just sent our latest issue of the Green American to the printer, so in about three weeks, you’ll be getting “Take the Plastic Challenge” in your mailboxes—or e-mail inboxes, if you’ve signed up to get our publications in digital format. In honor of the editorial team hitting our latest deadline, I thought I'd offer a small sneak peek at our upcoming plastics-centered theme.

When my fellow editors and I started looking into the social and environmental impacts of plastic, we expected to find plenty of things to be concerned about. What we didn’t expect was to be freaking out as much as we are about plastic.

Because once you really start thinking about it, you notice that plastic is EVERYWHERE. As author Susan Freinkel points out in her book Plastic: A Love Story, you probably can’t go five minutes after waking up in the morning without touching something plastic (i.e. alarm clock, glasses, toothbrush, soap dispenser, towel rack, and oh-my-gosh … toilet seat).

There are two big reasons to flip out over how pervasive plastic has become worldwide since Leo Hendrik Baekeland invented Bakelite (the first commercially successful plastic) in 1907:

Reason number one to flip out over plastic: Tons and tons of it—especially single-use plastic like packaging, food wrappers, and plastic bags—are ending up on beaches and in the ocean, where the stuff is choking fish and albatrosses, wrapping itself around dolphins and sea lions, and burying baby sea turtles in their nests before they can even make their first trek to the ocean. Try doing a Google search for “plastic” and any one of those animals. Better yet, don’t. The images are awful.

Reason number two to flip out over plastic: A study published in the July 2011 issue of Environmental Health Perspectives found that hundreds of types of plastics of every single resin code number (those numbers 1-7 in the recycling symbol on plastic products) leach hormone-disrupting chemicals. Hormone disrupters have been linked to obesity, neurodevelopmental impacts, and cancer in humans.

Every single resin code number.

Longtime Green America members might remember that several years ago, I asked you all to come up with a cute mnemonic to remember that plastics numbered 3, 6 , and 7 were the ones to really worry about when it comes to toxins, while 1, 2, 4, and 5 were fairly safe. (One person came up with, “1, 2, 4, and 5 help keep you alive. 3, 6, and 7 send you straight to heaven,” FYI.)

Well, throw that out the window, because all plastic might just be leaching toxins.

So now that I’m extra mindful of the plastic in my life, what am I going to do about it? It’s not realistic to aim to wipe plastic off the face of the Earth. There are a lot of great things that plastic has made possible, like artificial hearts, lightweight glasses, and Kevlar vests for police officers.

As I mention in my letter in the upcoming Green American, one activist who appeared in the 2010 documentary film Bag It brilliantly summed up what has now become Green America’s official position on plastic: “We’re not saying no to all plastic,” he said. “We’re saying no to stupid plastic.”

So Green America senior writer Sarah Tarver-Wahlquist, online editor Andrew Korfhage, and I will be challenging ourselves to say no to stupid plastic. Every Monday from now through the end of November (at least), we’ll be blogging about how we’ve gotten stupid plastic out of our lives, and where we’re facing challenges.

So come join us every “Plastic Monday.” Tell us in the comments section how you’ve gotten stupid plastic out of your lives, ask us questions, or talk through your plastic challenges with the Green America community.

We can’t wait to hear from you.

Blogger Beth Terry ( says that the two biggest things people can do to get rid of stupid plastic are to give up bottled water and to bring your own reusable bags to the store. What are your top ways to purge plastic from your life?

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