guest post by Mike Copsey
When consumers buy groceries, clothing, fast food or practically anything else, it almost always involves plastic. I don't mean the kind of plastic that has value like a credit card, but plastic that is worthless once used. Polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE), high-density polyethylene (HDPE), polyvinyl chloride (PVC), low-density polyethylene (LDPE), polypropylene (PP) or even polystyrene (PS) are some of the most common types of plastic that you will buy, or have handed to you because of your purchase. We have become dependent on plastic. Plastic straws, plastic plates, plastic cups, plastic milk jugs, bottled water in plastic bottles, plastic laundry soap containers, plastic siding, plastic insulation (polyurethane), plastic equipment cases, plastic coated cardboard containers for liquids like milk, plastic coated furniture and wood to make it last longer and even plastic trees. Try to think of purchases that didn't involve plastic! Manufacturers are designing products made of plastics that must be thrown away, which is a huge design flaw. Plastic is a great material when it is used in the right kinds of products -- like recycled plastic picnic tables.
The good, bad, and ugly of plastic consumption
Plastic is a unique material. It can last for hundreds or even thousands of years without breaking down into its previous state. Even when plastic does start to break down, it disintegrates into smaller and smaller pieces until it becomes microplastic. Microplastic, because of its properties, will absorb chemicals like DDT and its degraded versions, which are just as toxic as the original. So where do most of these plastics and microplastics live? You are probably thinking they’re getting recycled, right? Wrong!
Only 6.5 percent of all plastics get recycled and 7.7 percent gets burned for its combustible value. The rest is still here on the planet somewhere. All the plastic ever made that hasn't been recycled or burned still exists today! Some of the rest ends up in landfills where, over hundreds or thousands of years, it will leach nasty chemicals into the ground water – where your drinking water comes from! And wait, I said some of the rest didn't I? According to Columbia University's article, “What Happens to All That Plastic?” 100 million tons of plastic has become marine debris and is floating around our oceans, getting consumed by all types and sizes of marine life. In turn, we consume this marine life and ingest this plastic and its nasty hitchhiking chemicals too! Studies show that most people test positive for some of the 35-odd nasty chemicals that could only have been absorbed by this plastic!
How can picnic tables help solve the plastics problem?
So how do picnic tables fit into all of this? How can picnic tables help solve a plastic problem? The picnic tables I am talking about are made from the exact same plastic that can cause this plastic problem. When we think about plastic, we imagine thin and flimsy products that are easily damaged, but these picnic tables are made out of thick and heavy recycled plastic, so they are extremely durable. These picnic tables are designed to last for a hundred or more years, like other plastic products, but they are designed to be something that we actually want to have around that long. The plastic that is used in them has been diverted from landfills, oceans, your drinking water and your dining table. Made from solid recycled plastic, these tables are able to withstand just about anything that is thrown at them. Here are a few of their features that a common wood picnic table fails to match:
Rot proof: wood rots of course!
Water proof: wood can easily be damaged by exposure to water, whereas plastic remains unaffected.
Insect proof: termites and other insects can eat right through wood and make it their home, but they hate plastic.
No maintenance, no re-sanding, no replacing of rotted boards, no finishing the first time or refinishing after the original coat fails. In any case, with both of these treatments, toxic paint, oil, or varnish eventually end up coming off and becoming yet another type of pollution that leaches into the environment.
Cleaning recycled plastic picnic tables is easy. You can remove everything from bird poo to graffiti with soap and water.
Graffiti resistant: you can use an heated repair tool to smooth out any gouges in the finish. Go ahead, try getting rid of that “Johnny loves Mary” etching in a picnic table top made of wood!
They are practically theft-proof and inaccessible to all those but the extremely determined thief, as the larger models can weigh in excess of 450 lbs. That, by the way, works out to roughly 15,000 twenty-ounce bottles that are diverted from the landfills and oceans to build these picnic tables.
All of this performance comes from materials that were thrown away, so they address a major environmental problem.
Since these picnic tables are made from recycled plastic, not a single tree dies in the process of making them!
A picnic table is just one of many examples of waste plastic being put to good use, but to be made from recycled plastic, it must have a source. We can do better than a 6.5 percent recycle rate and we will have to if we want clean, chemical-free food and water.
Your consumption choices matter!
We as consumers have a voice. We can set new standards for manufacturing simply by refusing to buy plastic products that are disposable. We can buy smart - metal straws, cups and lids that get cleaned and reused, cloth grocery bags and other reusable products so that they never need to be thrown away. For now, these recycled plastic picnic tables are helping to address the plastic problem but ultimately it is only a Band-Aid on a much larger issue. If we continue to support an industry that makes disposable products out of plastic, we are in fact supporting the destruction of wildlife, and even our own health. So the next time you sit down on a comfy picnic table somewhere in a park to have your lunch (a plastic-free lunch, we hope), think about what you can do personally to recycle plastic and find alternatives for disposable plastic.
Mike Copsey is A.A.S. Web Analyst / Programmer at CMS Design LLC. You can connect with him on Twitter at @RecycledPlanet. The picnic tables are available at Allen Ventures, Inc.
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