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Monday, March 26, 2018

Why is plastic so bad?!

I use a lot of plastic in my artwork, because I feel that plastic is very representative of who we are as American consumers. I had a solo show last year about plastic in the ocean, so I did a lot of research for the exhibit.

What is plastic?

I got all the information below on the site, which I am quoting here directly:
"In chemistry, plastics are large molecules, called polymers, composed of repeated segments, called monomers, with carbon backbones. A polymer is simply a very large molecule made up of many smaller units joined together, generally end to end, to create a long chain. The smallest building block of a polymer is called a monomer. Polymers are divided into two distinct groups: thermoplastics (moldable) and thermosets (not). The word “plastics” generally applies to the synthetic products of chemistry.

Alexander Parkes created the first human-made plastic and publicly demonstrated it at the 1862 Great International Exhibition in London. The material, called parkesine, was an organic material derived from cellulose that, once heated, could be molded and retained its shape when cooled.

Many, but not all, plastic products have a number – the resin identification code – molded, formed or imprinted in or on the container, often on the bottom. This system of coding was developed in 1988 by the U.S.-based Society of the Plastics Industry to facilitate the recycling of post-consumer plastics.

Plastic is generally a durable material. Its durability has made it the culprit of the problem since it is considered resistant to natural biodegradation processes, i.e. the microbes that break down other substances do not recognize plastic as food. Yet plastic can be fragmented with the effects of UV, being broken down by light in smaller and smaller debris over time.

Biodegradation, the breaking down of organic substances by natural means, happens all the time in nature. All plant-based, animal-based, or natural mineral-based substances will over time biodegrade. In its natural state raw crude oil will biodegrade, but human-made petrochemical compounds made from oil, such as plastic, will not. Why not? Because plastic is a combination of elements extracted from crude oil then re-mixed up by humans in white coats. Because these combinations are human made they are unknown to nature.

Consequently, it has been thought that there is no natural system to break them down. The enzymes and the micro organisms responsible for breaking down organic materials that occur naturally such as plants, dead animals, rocks and minerals, don’t recognize them. This means that plastic products are indestructible, in a biodegradable sense at least."

What can you do?

Avoid single-use items as much as possible: do not use plastic utensils in delis, cafeterias, at work, or with your take-out orders. I travel with a small bag which contains real utensils (fork, spoon, and a knife - which I have crocheted out of plastic bags!).  They also make great gifts for all your environmentally concerned friends!

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