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TRASH PLASTIC—AN ENVIRONMENTAL PROBLEM
by Janice Stensrude
published in Uptown Express February 1989

In the 60s and 70s environmentalists were warning about the indestructible qualities of plastic. Here we are in the 80s, and we are dumping millions of pounds of plastic product into our environment each year—disposable products that will refuse to dispose themselves for 300 to 400 years. It was easier 20 years ago to follow a course of avoidance, but today even our "natural" vitamins are packaged in unnatural plastic. Nearly every retail establishment hands us our purchase in a plastic sack, and many products we consider necessary are no longer available in anything other than plastic containers. We can still ask for paper sacks in the grocery store, even though we know our purchases are going to be harder to transport, but the paper sack is loaded with plastic-wrapped foods and household goods. Plastic was and is too inexpensive, too universally useful not to come into widespread use, not to become a disposal problem.

Concern has had its impact, though. A recent television commentary that delivered a series of alarming statistics regarding the buildup of plastics on our planet also reported that the Archer Daniels Midland Company has developed a chemical—a starch—that causes breakdown of plastic in only a few years. Also heard on the grapevine is the development of "plastic" sacks made from soybeans. After being buried in earth for a period of time, the soybean sacks begin a breakdown process.

A recent issue of Wildfire Magazine published an article about Webster Industries of Peabody, Massachusetts, a company that is producing a degradable plastic garbage bag which they market as Good Sense Degradable Bags. Made from recycled plastic, these bags are photodegradable, Wildfire reports, beginning the degrading process when exposed to sunlight for as little as one day. This is accomplished by adding a chemical during manufacturing that makes the plastic sensitive to ultraviolet light. Complete breakdown is supposed to take from a few months to a few years. The bags are currently sold in supermarkets in some parts of the country and are priced below most of the indestructible plastic bags on the market today.

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