Living in a Plastic World

July 22, 2012

One woman’s war against plastics

Regular followers of my show know that I’m president of the Chicago Recycling Coalition. (Full disclosure: To my dismay, it’s completely voluntary.) So, obviously, whether for that organization or for segments I do on my radio show, I spend a fair amount of time thinking about recycling and recycling strategies.

I say that as a way of confessing that I was unprepared for what I discovered in the book Plastic-Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too, published by Skyhorse Publishing Company. The author is Beth Terry, who started on this mission not all that long ago–June, 2007, to be precise. It was then that she had her epiphany about plastics and began her spiritual–and practical–journey towards actually elminating plastics from her life.

I used italics there because even I know that there’s no way to eliminate plastics from our lives…or is there? Her blog, My Plastic-free Life (formerly fake plastic fish), describes the book as “a practical guide to ridding your life—and the planet—of plastic.” Hey, I’m not one to burst anyone’s bubble (okay, I am), but…um, Beth…see that mountain? That’s the one that you have decided to push your truck up. Good luck.

And yet, she approaches her subject in a way that splits the difference between optimism and–let’s say realism. She gives you the bad news that plastics are in practically every-fricking-thing that we manufacture and then cheerfully relates her own story of plastic redemption and how, if it worked for her, it will work for everybody else. And you know what? Because she backs up her writing with so many sources, so much information, you realize that she’s speaking the truth. That’s why you MUST buy the book.

Let me say that more clearly: Buy. The. Damn. Book. Today.

And then get to work to remove plastics from your life, at least to the extent that you can. And that’s another thing that Terry understands. We can do only what we can do. And, once we accomplish that, we can move to the next level. Hey, think of it as a video game! Except, if you lose, we all do.

I wish I could encapsulate all of the wisdom that Terry produces in a sentence or two, but it isn’t possible, mainly because our perceptions of how plastics affect our lives are wildly off the mark, and Terry needs to explain how we got here before she can suggest what needs to be done. And that can’t be done in a few paragraphs or in a radio conversation. One of the things she addresses is something that I’ve been talking about for awhile, namely that our own government is not really looking out for us. Says Terry:

Unlike many European countries, the United States does not follow the Precautionary Principle, which dictates that when an activity raises the threat of harm to human health and the environment, we should take precautionary measures to protect ourselves even before all the scientific data is in. What’s more, the Precautionary Principle specifies that companies should bear the burden of proving their products are safe before putting them on the market. In other words, we and our children should not have to be the guinea pigs for corporations’ latest and greatest chemical offerings. Sadly, that is just what happens in the United States.

But even worse, the United States does not even require manufacturers to disclose to the public what chemicals they add to their plastics in the first place. The intention is to help companies protect their “trade secrets.” So it becomes doubly impossible to determine whether a particular plastic item is safe, since even if we knew whether a particular additive was harmful or not, we wouldn’t necessarily know if it was in that particular kind of plastic or not.

And that’s just the starting point. She describes how plastics took over our lives in general, teaches us how to deal with various plastic products like plastic bags and plastic bottles (then explains why recycling plastics is really NOT the solution), how to eat without using plastics, how to shop without buying plastics, how to clean your house without using plastics and, ultimately, how changing our plastics-oversaturated world sits in your lap and you’d better do something, Bunky, because it really IS a matter of personal responsibility and actions.

Let me finish here with Beth Terry’s wise words:

Let’s follow the 4 Rs: refuse to buy single-use disposable packaging whenever possible; reduce the amount of unavoidable plastic we do consume and choose only those plastics that can realistically be recycled where we live; reuse plastic products when appropriate (some are not healthy to reuse); and recycle whatever is left. Finally, when purchasing durable products made from plastic, we can choose those made from recycled materials.

I am really, REALLY looking forward to this interview.

Fracking is coming to Illinois…unless you speak up

There is currently no hydraulic fracturing–or fracking–going on in Illinois…yet. That is all ready to change, after the General Assembly failed to take up the issue on the chaotic final day of the spring session. It left the state with no rules governing the controversial procedure. And it left the industry salivating at the opportunity to tap into something called New Alban Shale, a rock formation in southeastern Illinois that might be prime territory for producing large supplies of gas and oil. In fact, the rush is on to obtain those permits.

If you’ve seen the documentary Gasland, you know that there are serious issues about the environmental degradation caused by fracking, regardless of the energy it might supply. And the people who would be most affected by fracking in Illinois are, of course, the folks who live in southern Illinois.

Monday, July 30th from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing Our Environment (SAFE) is holding a rally at the James R. Thompson Center, 100 W. Randolph to request that Governor Pat Quinn halt the permitting of hydro-fracking operations. They ask that you call him in Chicago at 312-814-2121.

They also want to see SB 3280 passed in the General Assembly, which, which calls for a 1 year Moratorium on Fracking. This is the bill that stalled earlier in the year, but could come up again in the fall Veto Session. To call your State Represtative and Senator to ask them to vote yes on SB3280,  the Oil and Gas Act-Shale-Fracking  bill, call the Capitol switchboard at (217) 782-2000.

Lora Chamberlain of SAFE joins me today to talk about this imporant issue. For more information, go to The IL Stop the Frack Attack Rally on Facebook.

A couple of rants and/or items of interest

Last week, I told the not-so-pretty story of the feral cat family in my yard (anybody want a couple of cute kittens? Anybody want to capture them, too?) who were leaving dead rat trophies on my back porch. That led to the question of bird mortality, and one of my favorite listeners, cat-lover Tom, called me out when I said that I thought that cats, feral and domesticated, were responsible for half a billion bird deaths in the U.S. each year.

So I did a little research and found a study that was published in in 2005 by the USDA called A Summary and Comparison of Bird Mortality from Anthropogenic Causes with an Emphasis on Collisions. Looks pretty scientific to me. Turns out I was off by a few hundred thousand (what’s a few hundred thousand among friends?)…at least regarding cats. But, all things considered, up to a billion birds in the U.S. die due to various causes.

Here’s what they found about annual bird mortality and its causes:

Collisions with buildings: 550 million (58.2 %)
Power lines: 130 million (13.7%)
Cats: 100 million (10.6%)
Automobiles: 80 million (8.5%)
Pesticides: 67 million (7.1%)
Communications towers: 4.5 million (0.5%)
Wind turbines: 28.5 thousand (<0.01%)
Airplanes: 25 thousand (<0.01%)
Other sources (oil spills, oil seeps, fishing by-catch, etc.) not calculated

The rant that I have involves the new water lines that are being put in on my block in the Logan Square neighborhood. Hey, I’m all for infrastructure improvements, and I know that you have to operate pretty large machinery to tear up a street to install pipes, but hey, guys! Can you take it easy on the trees?

Take a look at the photos on my home page. If the City did that on every street, we would lose half of the trees in Chicago. I’m deciding how to proceed. Any suggestions?