Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Paper or Plastic

Paper or Plastic?
By Christie NashApril 16, 2009File under: Environmental Concerns, Health, Products
If you haven’t already converted to the reusable canvas bag, you may still be pondering the old question: Is it better to use paper or plastic?
Unfortunately, the answer is never clear-cut (no pun intended), as the excess use of both of these resources can be detrimental to our environment.
While one may be more biodegradable or easily recyclable than the other, the amount of resources and energy it takes to produce the product may negate that argument. For instance, not only are we having to cut down trees to make paper cups, but in fact, more petroleum is used to make paper cups than polystyrene cups. However, polystyrene does not biodegrade and can therefore be potentially harmful in the long run.
There is no question that both paper and plastic are used prolifically, and in many different forms, in the packaging of products. And although most forms of paper and plastic can be recycled, both of these products are still found ubiquitously in landfills.
While it may be easier for some to have an “out of sight out of mind” mentality when it comes to the disposal of the waste we produce, if we looked a little closer at the chemicals used to produce most packaging from its natural state, and the potential harmful consequence they could have on our health, we may reconsider that canvas bag.
If you deem paper the lesser of two evils, be sure to look for paper packaging that can actually be recycled. Many paper products cannot be recycled for various reasons, including the binding glue, which is difficult to breakdown, and prevents the product from being reused. Also, the chemicals that are used in the glue, and the pollutants emitted through the processing of the woods can contaminate soil, water, and the air we breathe.
However, if plastic is the packaging of choice, be sure to avoid, wherever possible, the following two chemicals:
1. Bisphenol A can be found in many items that we use everyday, such as hard-plastic water bottles, baby bottles, and food jars. Bisphenol A is acutely toxic, and the toxins can leach from the plastic into liquids, especially when the containers are heated or scratched.
2. Phthalates are chemicals used to make vinyl and other plastic materials soft and flexible. Phthalates are present in many different commonplace items, such as toys, food storage containers and wrappers, carpets, car interiors, and anything made of PVC. Phthalates are classified by the EPA as a probable human carcinogen, meaning they most likely cause cancer at certain concentrations.
Like Bisphenol A, many foods contain phthalates that leech from their plastic packaging, especially when food and plastic are heated together.