Plastics: Why We Worry and What We Can Do

An interview with Billy Best of Whole Foods

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Plastic isn’t biodegradable, and therefore, it is a more responsible thing to do to put it into a recycling box, than to trash it.  That was the extent of my knowledge of plastics – before I talked to Billy Best, the Green Team leader at the Whole Foods store at Boston’s Charles River Plaza.
Billy works in receiving and maintenance.  And that means he sees all the products come in and all the trash go out.
“The amount of plastic is staggering,” - says Billy.  “And much of it goes to waste almost as soon as it’s opened.  The useful life of a plastic fork is 20 or 30 minutes.”
What about recycling?
“Only #1 and #2 plastics get recycled in large quantity. Much of  #’s 3,4,5,6, and 7 winds up buried, burned, or washed into the ocean.  There is also a limit to how many times even recyclable plastic can be recycled, as well as a limited number of products that can be made from recycled plastic.  Pallet wrap is one – and although it is possible to recycle it again, much of it ends up in the trash because of the effort it would take companies like Whole Foods to clean and store it for recycling.”
While companies like Preserve Products and others are inventing ways of recycling more types of plastic- like #5 polypropylene- into more kinds of products, a large responsibility lies with the consuming public.
“Consumers can control the demand for plastics through choices in purchasing,” says Billy.  “If bulk or compostable packaging is not available, check the recycling code and choose a recyclable plastic.  Local produce also means less or no packaging, since local growers are able to deliver in reusable crates instead of the boxes and plastic wrap.”
And “location based” recycling systems like Greenopolis Recycling Kiosks and Recycle Rally programs help to capture plastics where they are used and return them to their next best use.
Another reason to check the code?  #3, #6 and #7 plastics may contain things like chlorine, benzene, and  BPA – an estrogen-like compound that interacts with the body’s endocrine system, just like the real hormone, posing a host of health hazards from impotence to cancer.

Only if I eat the plastic container – you may say.  But you do!   Plastic is photodegradable, meaning sunlight breaks it into microscopic pieces that penetrate our water and our food.  “There isn’t a drop of the ocean water on the planet today that doesn’t contain plastic,” – says Billy.


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