Wednesday, March 26, 2008

plastics problems and solutions

In addition to the foodie frenzy that's got me thinking a lot about what I eat, where it comes from and how its grown, I've recently started musing on the water I drink. My focus on water started when I added a new exercise element to my life, Bikram yoga. Bikram yoga is sometimes referred to as "hot yoga" because the studio temp is between 95 and 100 degrees F. Not surprisingly, this sort of yoga makes you sweat. A lot. Like constantly for the 90 minutes you're doing it.

I take a 32 ounce hard plastic bottle with me to class. By the time I walk to my car after class, I've drained the bottle and am ready to refill it when I get home. In all, I'd say I drink 3-4 of these bottles a day, which sounds like a ton (especially to a person like me whose two daily beverages tend toward coffee and wine!). But, again when you are losing as much fluids a day from the yoga, it's not all that much.

So back to the bottle situation. I've read lately about the ills of plastic garbage, especially that made by disposable plastic bottles. You know, the ones that pop up everywhere from boardrooms to bedrooms these days, the ones that come in pallet quantity at Costco and other huge retailers. Apparently plastics like these are creating a garbage raft in our oceans, what some have cleverly and nauseatingly called a "yummy plastic soup."

While I've known for a while that there is growing health concern over disposable plastic bottles because they tend to leach chemicals into whatever they are holding, somehow I was under the impression that hard plastic is a ton better. Hard plastics, like the popular Nalgene bottle, can also be found just about everywhere, especially (and ironically) in the packs of nature freaks (and yoga weirdos). I think I was tripped up by the logic of: soft=leaky; hard=not leaky. And of course, good marketing by Nalgene and others give hard plastic bottles the healthy, outdoorsy mystique (ie, people carry the bottle even if they never hike or ski because it's cool).

It seems that hard plastics aren't so groovy either, at least those that are made with certain chemicals. Apparently many of the same issues plaguing soft plastics also occur in hard ones.

Thankfully, some companies are helping us out by providing alternatives. One company, Kleen Kanteen, goes stainless steel. Think really cool WWII canteens. They offer several basic models for adults (bottom left) and babies ( right). They assure us that the plastic tops they use in all their bottles are non-leaching.

At the risk of sounding alarmist, let me say that who knew stainless steel would ever be such a God send. It's true that not everyone believes plastics are that bad (as the articles linked above demonstrate). But many do and find it challenging to live plastic-free (or plastic-less, at least). This is because plastics are prevalent and preferred, of course. Think of all the plastic fluid containers in your house, from the water bottles we've been discussing here to the plastic gallon jug of milk in your fridge. It's one thing to order (as I will) a metal canteen for your drinking water, but it's another to try to limit plastic use in other areas of your life. Consider that my local market won't carry my favorite local farmstead milk because it comes in glass containers (below right). So to get their milk you must go out to the farm, which is a great idea, but let's face it, not a step many can or will take.

Milk is just one product. Let's think of other things we put in our mouths or on our bodies that are commonly stored in plastic containers. There's toothpaste, toothbrushes, the container that holds your toothbrush, your shampoo bottle, your travel soap container, oh, and your kid's teething ring and his wet wipe container, get the point.

This topic is both encouraging and frustrating: encouraging that we have options like metal canteen water bottles, but frustrating that we need them. We are arguably the most developed and wealthiest nation on the planet with the safest water source, but we're too lazy or too ignorant to figure out how to drink it.


kate ortiz said...

i think my life is often one long bikram yoga session - toting around two babies in miami heat...not cool. i've been reading up on this, too. i like kleen kanteen but don't use them at the moment because they don't have a cup with a straw - my kid doesn't quite get the tip your head movement. but i need to do more research. i've noticed that there are more and more of these companies popping up all the time.

BonnieJ said...

Did you mean they won't carry the milk because it's in PLASTIC bottles? I didn't know glass leached anything, so I thought maybe you meant plastic :)

Kelli said...

our local store won't carry the milk because it comes in glass bottles. the glass doesn't jive with the way they do things. i think they are worried the glass will break and cause problems in transit, in the store, etc.

my intended point was, boy, people who are giving us an alternative to plastic (ie, the milk people i mentioned) can't help us out because the store won't carry the product. we must go right to the farm to get it (which is not a bad idea, I must admit).

thanks for your comment, bonnie

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