Monday, September 27, 2010

The 3 R's - Reduce Reuse Recycle,

Last Saturday was the Coastal Cleanup Day. To give applause to volunteers, we danced to my favorite song, Jack Johnson's "The 3 R's - Reduce Reuse Recycle" at Santa Monica beach. It is a fun song and always makes me smile.
While dancing, I was thinking about the lyrics.

If you're going to the market to buy some juice
You've got to bring your own bags and you learn to reduce your waste
And if your brother or your sister's got some cool clothes
You could try them on before you buy some more of those
Reuse, we've got to learn to reuse
And if the first two R's don't work out
And if you've got to make some trash
Don't throw it out

When I talk to someone about plastic pollution, about a half of people would proudly say, "I cut 6-pack rings before toss them.", "I buy/use biodegradable plastic", or "Oh, I always recycle." Yes, thank you, people. Those are nice. At least, it's nice to know that some people are conscious about plastic pollution. However, those actions are not enough to save the ocean, believe or not.

Cutting 6-pack rings prevent small animals from getting stuck in the rings. This information came out in the late 1970s when the environmentalists started to raise awareness of marine debris. It is true that birds and turtles can get caught in them and die, but between 1988 and 1998, U.S. cleanups uncovered 1,089 instances of animal entanglement, and only 72 (7 percent) involved six-pack rings. The rest, of course, was cause by other plastic debris.

Since 1989, under federal law, six-pack rings have been 100% photo-degradable(Photo-degradable plastics have a sun-sensitive component added that triggers a physical disintegration when exposed to sunlight). So, it is not really necessary to cut the 6-pack rings because they will break down to pieces in a few month anyway. (See Hi-Cone)

Does it mean that 6-pack rings are safe? No.
When plastic breaks down to pieces, it becomes more problematic. The small pieces of plastic mimic food. Those colorful plastic pieces look like krill, jellyfish, or fish eggs to birds, fish, and marine mammals. Plastic can suffocate them or block their digestive track. Plastic also absorbs toxic chemical materials such as PCB and DDT in the water and transfer them to animals.

If photo-degradable plastic is not good, is biodegradable plastic good? No.
Many people recently use biodegradable plastic bags, dog poop bags, food containers, or even diapers. But unless it is taken to a composting facility, biodegradable plastic will not biodegrade easily. If you toss your biodegradable plastic in a non-biodegradable plastic trash bag, it will be carried to a regular landfill and stay for 100s of years without breaking down.

So, the best thing is to recycle, right? No.
The carbon-footprint study, titled "PET’s carbon footprint: to recycle or not to recycle" found that in communities with limited infrastructure, recycling a plastic bottle can actually result in a bigger carbon footprint than simply throwing it in a landfill. The study concludes that the curbside take-back systems are no better than landfill. From a carbon-emissions standpoint, it would be just as well to bury used bottles as to recycle them. However, when plastic are buried, it leach harmful chemicals into the ground and potentially polluting the soil and water.

Should we reuse plastic items? No, not always.
You can reuse it as long as you don't put food in it. But if you put food or water, unless you wash and dry it properly, it may grow bacteria. You definitely do not want to heat plastic because it leach toxic chemicals.

Oh my. Is there any bright side of this story? Unfortunately, no.
Plastic will stay almost forever and keep harming animals and humans.
What we should do is to "Refuse" to buy/get single-use plastic.
Next time when I dance to "The 3R's", I would switch "Reuse" to "Refuse" for the 3 R's for plastic pollution since the 4 R's don't go with the rhythm.

We've got to learn to
Refuse, Reduce, Recycle
Refuse, Reduce, Recycle
Refuse, Reduce, Recycle
Refuse, Reduce, Recycle
Because three it's a magic number
Yes it is, it's a magic number

It's still such a fun song to dance! I love it!
Thanks to Jack Johnson for making this song!

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