Banning single use plastics

At Erco Safety we are not only concerned about the safety of the workers, we are also concerned about the safety of our environment.

Plastics and polystyrene are two of the most abundant materials that are having the biggest impact on our environment. 

Items made of plastic can take up to 1000 years to break down in our landfills.  Plastic bags take 10-1000 years to decompose and plastic bottles can take 450 years or more to decompose.  Very slowly lawmakers and citizens concerned for the environment are taking steps to reduce our dependency on plastic items.  For example Chile was the first country in Latin America to ban the commercial use of plastic bags.  The legislation was enacted in August of 2018 and businesses were given 6 months to phase out the use of plastic bags.  The total ban took effect February 3, 2019.

In December of 2018 the organization called The Balance Small Business wrote an article on The Decomposition of Waste in Landfills.  In this article it was stated that not only does it take a 1000 year for plastic to decompose it also takes 1.6 million barrels of oil just for producing plastic water bottles.

This article also stated that polystyrene does not biodegrade, which means all the styrofoam cups and take out containers in the landfills and discarded on the side of the road will never decompose.  Currently there are no viable programs in place to recycle products made of polystyrene.  In a number of countries there are other options to polystyrene containers and cups.  For instance containers made of recycled materials and other items like sugar can pulp.   

Decomposing time for other items included in the article are disposable diapers.  In the US 18 billion disposable diapers are thrown away annually.  These diapers take approximately 250-500 years to decompose.

Aluminum cans are recycled in America, every minute of every day more than 120,000 cans are recycled. However, every three months enough aluminum cans are thrown away that can rebuild the entire American commercial air fleet.  Aluminum cans take 80-200 years to completely decompose.

Normally glass is easy to recycle by breaking down the glass and melting it which can produce new glass.  Glass that is through in the landfill can take millions of years to decompose.

The largest element in American landfills, based on volume, is paper waste.  Paper waste decomposes in 2 to 6 weeks, but if we recycled these items it would save a lot of landfill space with items that are easily recycled.

The article goes on to list other waste items deposed of and how long it takes them to decompose.  The cigarette butts that are on our streets and beaches take 10-12 years.  Monofilament fishing lines that are cut and left in our oceans take 600 years.   Rubber tires take 50-80 years to decompose.  Batteries take 100 years and tin foil does not biodegrade.  These are time frames for waste to decompose in a landfill.  When these items are discarded onto the side of the road they will take even longer to decompose.

So what is it going to take to reduce and remove society‚Äôs dependency on these products?  North American has been addressing this issue for decades which started with education, legislation, enforcement and programs to address the waste.  However, society cannot just rely on lawmakers and program developers.  Each citizen needs to do their part.  As long as there is a demand for these products they will be produced.  I spend the majority of my year in a warm third world country.  For the people of the Dominican Republic the change needs to start with education and programs to provide alternatives.  Currently a number of employers provide their workers with a meal when they work more than 6 hours a day.  The majority of these meals are provided to the worker in a polystyrene container.  The concept of trash cans is relatively new in the DR and the majority of the polystyrene containers seem to end up on the road side.  There are a number of organizations that have begun with the education aspect of this problem.  These groups are meeting with members of the community, municipal leaders and educators to begin the promotion of reduce, reuse and recycle.  There are a number of organizations that are encouraging citizens to collect plastic beverage containers and pack them with garbage to make plastic bricks.  One organization is going so far as to offer 20 pesos per plastic brick.  These bricks are being used to build facilities in the barrios like a medical facility and a school. 

What are steps we can take to reduce the use of single use plastics?  For one when you go shopping take reusable produce and shopping bags.  For bulk items take your own containers.  When going out to eat take your own take out containers.  There are a number of options available to consumers to reduce their reliance on plastics and polystyrene it just takes a little effort and commitment from everyone to do their part in reduce, reuse and recycle to save our environment for now and generations to come.  Please do your part.

Decompositions rates Information was obtained from