The week before Spring Break, my environmental psych class turned my whole world upside down. I’m sure any readers out there who are familiar with environment or psychology classes know that a little information goes a long way to sending students down doomsday spirals. Now just picture these two topics combined into one and then drop in a passionate guest speaker and you have a clear image of what caused me to question everything.

Or, at least, everything I knew about plastic. And honestly, once the guest speaker opened my eyes, I realized I really didn’t know shit about plastic. Because who even thinks about it, really? It makes up my adorable reusable (and therefore eco-friendly, or so I thought) water bottle, my pitcher I use for water, my shampoo and conditioner containers, the knife-fork-spoon hybrid I eat all my meals with and god only knows what else. Plastic is everywhere and it’s wreaking havoc on our world and our bodies. No one even knows what it’s made of, because the people who make plastic do not have to disclose the ingredients that make it up.

For example, in the early 2000s, when numerous studies came out explaining that the chemicals in the BPA plastic that make up most water bottles and baby bottles disrupt hormones and cause cancer, most people were quick to leap onto the BPA-free bandwagon. I know my family was. Basically, during my entire childhood, I instinctively knew that BPA-free water bottles were safe.

According to a Mother Jones article, BPA substitutes are unregulated chemicals made into plastic in privately owned businesses which do not have to release this information. Similarly, according to Journalist’s Resource, new studies have shown that the same endocrine-disrupting chemicals found in BPA can be found in its widely favored replacement.

This information is frighteningly hidden. Until plastic is more closely regulated by the government, it will be impossible to know the breadth of danger that comes from these mixtures of chemicals. And plastic, the material that makes up throw-away packaging and non-reusable grocery bags, will never decompose into nature because, “due to the nature of plastic (it) often can only be ‘downcycled’ rather than recycled.”

Some plastic is sent to be recycled in developing countries, which often involves open-air burning. But most plastic doesn’t even enter the shoddy recycling system. Thirty-four million tons of plastic were disposed in the United States in 2008, 86 percent of which ended up in landfills. Landfills are deeply unsustainable and diminish land resources. Other options, such as incineration, dangerously release carbon dioxide and other air pollutants.

It seems to me that the entire recycling and waste removal system needs to be revitalized. But until that day, try to creatively reuse plastics, maybe for flower pots or pencil cases. However, do not eat out or off of them. As well as increasing our risk for cancer and disrupting our hormones when plastic leeches from our water bottles and plastic dining ware into our food and water, it’s also destroying the only home we have.

Change starts with a small step in the right direction, so switch from plastic to metal or glass today. I did, and my metal water bottle holds water in basically the same way! I’m sure some people will read this and think I am crazy for putting so much emphasis on avoiding plastic. It’s easy to write off these findings as pieces of propaganda and insanity, but that’s just being willfully blind. Scientists aren’t lying. It’s better to take preventative steps now by cutting as much plastic out of our lives as possible. It’s the only real chance we have at saving this glorious planet. And ourselves, too.

Eliana Herman can be reached at erherman@umich.edu.

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