The Chemicals in Plastic and Why it Matters, Part 2

Colorful plastic litter organized by color on a beach.
Image by Filmbetrachter from Pixabay

Plastics are made from chemicals and petroleum, which you read about in Part 1 of this series. Today, I want to tell you about the chemical contents of plastics by resin code, the number on the bottom surrounded by a triangle. More importantly, I want to inform you of the ways they may be toxic to our health.

Resin Identification Codes (RICs)

Resin symbol for #1 plastic, or PET.
Image by OpenIcons from Pixabay

The plastics industry created RICs in 1988 as part of their campaign to boost plastic’s image. They even lobbied to have state legislatures adopt them. But this little symbol on almost all plastic packaging is misleading. Many assume that the recycling symbol or RIC means that a package is automatically recyclable. However, that is not true, it actually only refers to the type of plastic resin used.

To reduce confusion, ASTM, the organization that regulates the RIC system, updated the symbol from the chasing arrows to a solid triangle in 2013. “However, manufacturers aren’t required to change their equipment to incorporate the new symbol, which is why you still see the arrows on many plastic products,” according to an article on Oceano.org.1 So it’s still easy for people who don’t know to mistake the RIC as a recycling symbol versus an industry tag for the plastic.

Graphic comparing the types of recycling symbols used with RICs.

A clear plastic PET food container showing the updated symbol, a numbe 1 inside of triangle.
Example of a plastic PET food container showing the updated symbol. Photo by me

The RICs / Types of Plastics

Resin Identification Coding System graphic
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Next, let’s look at the 7 RICs and types of plastics, what they are used for, their characteristics, their chemical contents, and their potential toxicity. Note that this is not an exhaustive list; nor is each category exhaustive in the standard products or characteristics.

#1 PET/PETE: Polyethylene terephthalate

Standard products: Water bottles, soda bottles, food containers such as cooking oil and peanut butter, wrinkle-proof clothing, fleece blankets, padding in pillows and comforters, carpeting, other polyester fabrics.

About: PET is the most valuable type of plastic and the most recycled. There are typically two types: one is made with a blow molding machine; the other is thermoform which is made by heating a plastic sheet until pliable and then molded into a specific shape. The main difference is in molecular weight. Higher molecular weight items, such as bottles and jugs made from blow molding, are more valuable than their thermoform counterparts. Thermoform, though more difficult to sell, is often recycled into carpeting.2

Chemical content: “A chemical called antimony trioxide is used as a catalyst and flame retardant in making PET, and this antimony additive is considered a possible carcinogen.” The amount in one single water bottle is minimal, but leaching increases with heat. Think of those water bottles stored in the car during the summer. “There is research showing that PET may leach phthalates too, even though the plastics industry says that phthalates are not required to make PET.”3 Regardless, think about switching to metal or glass containers whenever possible.

Close-up of clear blue water bottles
Image by pasja1000 from Pixabay

#2 HDPE: High-density Polyethylene

Standard products: Milk jugs, water bottles, juice, bottles, bleach, dish and laundry detergent bottles, shampoo and conditioner bottles, cleaner containers, over-the-counter medicine bottles, cereal box liners, Tyvek home insulation, plastic-wood composites, snowboards, 3D printing filament, and wire covering. It is even used in some plastic surgery procedures.

About: This is one of the most widely used plastics because of its versatility. It is strong, flexible, cost-effective, moisture-resistant, and resistant to most chemical solvents. It has high tensile strength and has both a high-impact resistance and melting point. “The polyethylene polymer has the simplest basic chemical structure of any polymer, making it easy to process and thus extremely popular for low value, high volume applications.”4

Chemical content: While this is considered a ‘safer’ plastic for food and drink use, there is evidence that these release endocrine-disrupting chemicals, especially when exposed to UV. “The main leaching culprits are estrogen-mimicking nonylphenols and octylphenols, which are added to polyethylene as stabilizers and plasticizers.”5 Those chemicals disrupt the body’s hormones and can cause cancer, reproductive problems, birth defects, and other developmental disorders.

Angled photo of plastic milk jugs at the supermarket.
Milk jugs are typically #2 HDPE. Photo by me

#3 PVC: Polyvinyl Chloride

Standard products: Think all vinyl products. Shower curtains, medical bags, medical tubing, shrink wrap, children’s toys, binders, school supplies, plastic furniture, garden hoses, vinyl clothing and outerwear, wire and cable insulation, vinyl records, carpet backing, flooring, credit cards, clamshell packaging, plumbing pipes, vinyl siding, window frames, fences, decking, other construction materials.

About: “PVC can take on a staggering variety of personalities – rigid, filmy, flexible, leathery – thanks to the ease with which it can be blended with other chemicals.”6 PVC is versatile as it can be adapted to many applications depending on the plasticizing additives. It is strong and resistant to moisture and abrasion. It can be produced clear or colored. About three-quarters of all vinyl produced goes into construction applications.

Chemical content: PVC is known as the poison plastic because it leaches toxins for its entire life cycle and should be avoided whenever possible. Vinyl is manufactured by polymerizing a chemical called vinyl chloride. It can contain up to 55% additives, mainly phthalates. The chemicals it may release during its lifetime include cancer-causing dioxins, endocrine-disrupting phthalates, bisphenol A (BPA), lead, mercury, cadmium, and other heavy metals. “The problem with PVC is that its base monomer building block is vinyl chloride, which is highly toxic and unstable, thus requiring lots of additives to calm it down and make it usable. But even in its final ‘stabilized’ form, PVC is not very stable.”7 The additives leach out and you can inhale and ingest them.

White PVC pipes stacked at a manufacturer or store.
PVC pipes, photo by Dennis Hill on Flickr, Creative Commons license (CC BY 2.0)

#4 LDPE: Low-density Polyethylene

Standard products: Film applications like bags, such as those used for bread, shopping, dry-cleaning, newspapers, frozen foods, produce, and garbage. Also used for shrink wraps, linings for cartons and cups, container lids, some squeeze bottles, orthotics, and prosthetics.

About: LDPE is a soft, flexible, lightweight plastic material, known for its low-temperature flexibility, toughness, and corrosion resistance. But it is not recyclable in any practical sense. Citing data from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), one large recycling corporation noted that “the overwhelming majority of products made from LDPE end up in landfills…Dumping tons of LDPE in landfills can have devastating consequences…plastic buried in landfills can leach into the soil and introduce chemicals into the groundwater.” They can threaten marine life in coastal areas, and “lightweight plastic bags can be blown great distances by the wind, ending up in bodies of water where animals eat them or become tangled in them.”8 Plastic bags causes huge environmental problems.

Chemical content: These can leach some of the same chemicals as #2 HDPE plastic. It is a thermoplastic made from the polymerization of ethylene. While ethylene is considered a building block of plastic, it is highly flammable and reactive. It is created by Ethane Cracker Plants, which use an environmentally questionable process to extract the ethane to make ethylene. While difficult to avoid, steer clear of this plastic whenever possible.

Angled photo of the bread aisle at the supermarket.
Bread bags are typically #4 LDPE. Photo by me
Blue plastic cap from a gallon milk or water jug, #4 LDPE plastic.
Blue plastic cap from a gallon water jug, #4 LDPE plastic. Photo by me

#5 PP: Polypropylene

Standard products: Polypropylene is used in packaging, yogurt cups, sour cream and soft cheese containers, prescription bottles, butter/margarine containers, plastic to-go containers, leftover containers, freezer meal containers, the filter cases of some disposable home water filters, electrical wiring, and plastic bottle caps because polypropylene can withstand pressure. It is also used in vehicles for bumpers, carpets, and other parts. Polypropylene allows moisture to escape and stays dry, making it ideal for use in disposable diapers.

About: Polypropylene is sometimes referred to as the “safe” plastic, but there really is no safe plastic when it comes to food. All plastic has the capacity to poison us in certain circumstances. Polypropylene is a stronger plastic than other types, but it is generally not recyclable because there isn’t sufficient reprocessing capacity. Polypropylene is more stable and resists heat better than other plastics. So it is generally considered safer for foods and hot liquids because it leaches fewer chemicals (though it still does leach, which is why you should use glass or metal containers for your food).9 However, this is what many leftover and freezer meal containers are made from. Have you ever noticed rough patches or surface defects in your leftover containers? Any disruptions on the surface mean the polypropylene has been compromised, which increases the chances that it will leach chemicals into your food, especially when heating it.

If you have polypropylene leftover containers from before 2013, replace them. These contained phthalates and bisphenol A (BPA). And if you do replace them, please buy stainless steel or glass containers and just avoid the chemicals in plastic altogether.

Chemical content: Polypropylene is a rigid and crystalline thermoplastic made from the polymerization of the propene monomer. There is ongoing research about the health effects of certain additives leaching from polypropylene, such as oleamide, a polymer lubricant and a bioactive compound. Oleamide does occur naturally in the human body, but the long-term effects of synthetic oleamide are not yet known. In a 2021 study entitled “Plastic additive oleamide elicits hyperactivity in hermit crabs,” scientists found that it may be perceived as a feeding cue by marine species, thus increasing the consumption of microplastics.10

Angled photo of the yogurt shelves at the supermarket.
Yogurt and other dairy containers are typically #5 polypropylene. Photo by me

#6 PS: Polystyrene

“Most recognizable when puffed up with air into that synthetic meringue known technically as expanded polystyrene and popularly by the trademark Styrofoam.” -Susan Freinkel, author of Plastic: A Toxic Love Story11

Standard products: The foam form, called Expanded Polystyrene (EPS), also known as Styrofoam, is used in egg cartons, meat trays, single-use food and take-out containers, coffee cups, vehicles, bike helmets, packing peanuts, and home insulation. The rigid form is used for single-use food containers, cutlery, CD and DVD cases, disposable razors, etc. “It is also combined with rubber to create an opaque high impact polystyrene used for model assembly kits, coat hangers, electronic housings, license plate frames, aspirin bottles and medical and lab equipment, including test tubes and petri dishes.”12

About: It may be difficult to avoid this stuff in home insulation, vehicles, and bike helmets, but it should be avoided at all costs when it comes to food and beverages. I wrote a lot about polystyrene in my series on Styrofoam and polystyrene food containers. These containers and cups leach styrene into food and beverages and thus enter your body. Styrene is known to likely be carcinogenic. It is considered a brain and nervous system toxicant and causes problems in the lungs, liver, and immune system.

Chemical content: Polystyrene is a synthetic polymer made from the polymerization of styrene. It is a chemically produced plastic that can be made into a hard or foam plastic. The foam is created by expanding the styrene by blowing various chemical gases into it. Polystyrene is made from ethylene and benzene, both hydrocarbons derived from by-products of petroleum and natural gas (also known as petrochemicals).

Take-out in polystyrene containers
Image by albedo20 on Flickr, Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

#7: OTHER Plastics

This is the catch-all category for all ‘other plastics.’ Any plastic items not made from the above six plastic RICs are grouped together as #7’s. These include acrylic, nylon, polycarbonate, epoxy resins, polylactic acid (PLA), and multilayer combinations of different plastics. These are never recyclable except through a few rare and expensive take-back programs, because of the vast array of resins and chemicals mixed together. Below are some of the individual plastic types that fall under #7.

Acrylic: This is a rigid thermoplastic that is strong, diverse, and resilient; and it can be clear or solid colored. Acrylics are used to make bulletproof windows, LEGOs, dental fillings and dentures, airplane windows, aquariums, shower doors, vehicle parts, helmets, and even textiles such as clothing, tents, and sails. This is a stable plastic and is considered a ‘safer’ plastic, except for certain ones used in dental applications. Those, specifically acrylic methacrylate resins, are suspected to be cytotoxic (toxic at the cellular level) because they leach chemicals such as formaldehyde and methyl methacrylate.13 That being said, keep those LEGOs out of your toddler’s mouths.

Red, blue, white, yellow, and black Legos in a small pile.
Photo by Alexas_Fotos on Pixabay

Nylon: This belongs to a group of plastic resins called polyamides that include Kevlar and Velcro. Invented by DuPont in the 1930s, nylon was originally invented to be a synthetic alternative for silk, for example, stockings. Nylon can be fiber, solid, or film. Items made from it include clothing, toothbrush and hairbrush bristles, rope*, instrument strings, tents, parachutes, carpets, tires, food packaging, boat propellers, skateboard wheels, and mechanical and automotive parts.

DuPont advertisement for Nylon from 1949, showing woman pulling up her Nylon stockings.
DuPont advertisement for Nylon from 1949. Image by clotho98 on Flickr, Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC 2.0)

*NOTE: Most rope and nets used in commercial fishing are made from nylon and present a huge problem in the oceans. The rope and nets break away from the fishing vessels and become threats to fish, sea turtles, and marine mammals who get entangled in them. Since nylon is plastic, it will not decompose and will remain in the ocean for decades or longer.

Seal on beach with nylon fishing net entangled around its neck.
Nylon fishing net entangled around the neck of a seal. Image by Noutch from Pixabay

Polycarbonate: Originally designed as an engineering plastic to compete with die-cast metal and substitute glass because it is lightweight, strong, transparent, and shatter-proof. In the past, it was used in reusable water bottles and baby bottles until bisphenol A (BPA) was ruled toxic. “It is still a favorite for rigid products including CDs and DVDs, eyeglass lenses, dental sealants, lab equipment, snowboards, car parts and housing for cell phones, computers and power tools.” It is also still used in the large, blue water containers common in offices.14 This type of plastic is good for items not related to food or beverage. However, we should use it less overall in other applications when possible to reduce waste, because when polycarbonate breaks it cannot be recycled.

Epoxy resins: Known for high strength, low weight, temperature and chemical resistance. Used in many applications: high-performance adhesives, coatings, paint, sealant, insulators, wind turbine blades, fiber optics, electrical circuit boards, and parts for carts, boats, and planes. They are also used on the interior lining of most canned goods. Avoid these when possible, especially with food and beverage containers because they contain chemicals such as bisphenol A (BPA) and epichlorohydrin. The latter likely causes blood, respiratory, and liver damage and is a probable carcinogen.15

Polylactic Acid (PLA): This is a bio-based plastic made from lactic acid, which is a fermentation product of corn or cane sugar. This is the most common bioplastic, used in a variety of products including clothing, bottles, weed cloth, gift and credit cards, food packaging, diapers, wipes, and disposable dishes. PLA is advertised as compostable but it is only biodegradable under industrial composting conditions, which is still largely unavailable.16

Polyurethanes

This large family of plastics was introduced in 1954. Polyurethanes do not have an assigned RIC, but they are worth mentioning because they are so common. They come in foamed versions that are soft and flexible for uses in mattresses, cushioning in furniture, cars, and running shoes, spray foam insulation, and carpet underlay. They can take on a flexible form for hoses, tubing, gaskets, seals; and they can be tough and rigid for items such as insulating lining for buildings and refrigerators. Polyurethane can also be made into thin films or coatings, such as adhesives for food packaging and waterproof coatings for wood. When it is spun into fibers, it makes Spandex, Lycra, and even latex-free condoms.17

Polyurethane is made from isocyanates, a chemical that is potentially toxic, as it is the leading cause of occupational asthma. “As for our day-to-day use, polyurethanes have also been linked to a skin irritation known as contact dermatitis through direct contact with such polyurethane items as a toilet seat, jewelry and Spandex tapes sewn into underwear.” It is highly flammable and may contain flame retardant additives that go in mattresses and spray foam insulation. Flame retardants are full of chemical combinations that are considered trade secrets, so the public does not know what potential toxins are present in their items. Spray foam insulation, even once cured, can off-gas isocyanate methylene diphenyl diisocyanate (MDI), which has been linked to asthma and lung damage.18

Person in white Hazmat suit applying purple spray foam insulation.
Image by justynkalp from Pixabay

What You Can Do

The best thing you can do is to keep learning, which you’re already doing if you’re reading this article. Stay informed and be aware of what chemicals you’re exposed to through plastics, packaging, and additives. Avoid those which are documented as toxic or even potentially toxic. Additionally, remember that few plastics are actually recycled, so reducing the plastics you purchase is essential to the environment and your health. Thank you for reading, please share and subscribe!

“We all need to separate the hopeful and increasingly fantastical act of recycling from the reality of plastic pollution. Recent data indicates that our recycling wishes, hopes, and dreams – perhaps driven in part by myths surrounding RICs – will not stop plastic from entering our oceans. Instead, if we truly want to protect the environment and marine life, we need to campaign for more plastic-free choices and zones, and for the reduction of plastic production and pollution.”19

 

Additional Resources:

11 Ways to Go Plastic-Free with Food

To learn more about Bioplastics: The Packaging Industry and How We Can Consume Differently, Part 3

The different types of plastics used in packaging: Guide to my Packaging Industry Series

More about polystyrene #5: Guide to my Styrofoam and Polystyrene Containers are Poisoning Your Food Series

Footnotes:

DIY & Zero Waste Gift Wrapping (for All Occasions!)

Last updated on January 16, 2021.

Christmas wrapping paper and ribbon
Image by tookapic from Pixabay

Americans spend an estimated 3 to 7 billion dollars annually on wrapping paper. We buy wrapping paper, something we are intentionally going to throw away. We are paying for stuff that’s going to go into the trash!

Maybe it’s time we reallocated those funds.

Wrapping paper and gift wrap often come wrapped itself in plastic film, which is not recyclable. We use the paper once to wrap gifts and then we throw it away. Some wrapping paper has a plastic coating, making it non-recyclable. On top of that, the plastic tape we use on gifts makes the paper unrecyclable (because of “contamination”) in most municipalities.

What can you do?

There are so many things you can do to make a difference in the amount of waste we produce, and often even save money. Here are just a few ideas:

      • Use the alternative methods in this post for gift wrapping.
      • Reduce the overall number of gifts you give – think minimalism!
      • Gift e-gifts! Think ebooks, e-audiobooks, music: gift subscriptions to Audible, Kindle Unlimited, Spotify, a video game, or any other similar online subscription.
      • Gifts for experiences – tickets to the movies, theater, ballet, climbing gym, museums, or the spa! What would the person you’re gifting really like?
      • See my Black Friday post for additional ideas.

There are so many alternatives! But first things first…

Let’s talk about tape

Stop buying “Scotch” or plastic tape. I know this seems crazy, but if you want to reduce waste and plastic pollution, plastic tape has got to go. I recommend gummed paper tape, which I first learned about from the blog, My Plastic Free Life. The tape is water-activated and is super sticky with just a tiny amount of moisture. I cut out small strips of the paper tape, apply a tiny bit of water with a paintbrush and let it get gummy, and then apply the tape.

Paper tape roll, scissors, water cup, and paintbrush
Supplies: Paper tape roll, scissors, water cup, and paintbrush.
Cut strips of paper tape
Cut out strips of paper tape.
Paintbrush to brush water on paper tape
Use the paintbrush to brush on a tiny amount of water. You don’t need much to make it adhere.

It’s not the most attractive tape, but if the gift wrap is going to be trashed or recycled after the gift is opened, who cares? People you are giving gifts to probably know you well enough to understand that you’re an eco-warrior. Be proud. And if you are worried about it, you could decorate the tape.

This is the paper tape* I use, but you can find it at local office supply stores and on Amazon. Just steer clear of the types that are “reinforced” because they contain fiberglass filaments, which are plastic fibers. This defeats the purpose of using paper tape to be eco-friendly.

Use up gift wrap that’s already in your house

If you’ve got wrapping paper you’ve already purchased, please use that up and don’t waste it. You can glue small scraps together to make a larger piece in order to waste even less.

Large piece of wrapping paper made from scraps.
Large piece of wrapping paper made from scraps.
A second gift I wrapped from the same large piece.
A second gift I wrapped from the same large piece. This one used leftover plastic ribbon and a leftover store-bought gift tag. I have used these up and no longer purchase plastic ribbon or gift tags.

Eliminate plastic bows and ribbon

Bows sold at regular stores are usually made of plastic. Even if you reuse them for several years, they eventually must be thrown away. Stop buying these and look for alternatives online or make your own. Cycle out the plastic ribbon in your home as well, switch to a cloth (not polyester, because that’s plastic too) ribbon, or just use pretty string or twine. You can also make some out of fabric or old t-shirts! Ideas abound online!

Silver and blue gift bows.
Plastic bows: pretty but bad for the environment. Photo by DiEtte Henderson on Unsplash

Eliminate store-bought gift tags

Gift tags are often stickers or plastic-coated paper, and sometimes have a plastic band or ribbon to attach it with. You can make your own tags out of regular paper or leftover gift wrap which can be recycled.

You can also write directly on the gift with a marker. This is what I’ve switched to most recently, and it actually saves me time and work. Here’s one I did recently, using leftover wrapping paper and a plastic bow that I’ve been reusing for several years (I haven’t cycled all of those out yet):

Gift with handwriting on the paper in place of a gift tag, with a red bow.

Gift bags

Gift bags are often plastic-coated paper, so I don’t recommend buying these. They are reusable, but they do have an end life and aren’t recyclable. Cycle these out and don’t purchase more.

Switch to uncoated paper gift bags. If they are plain, you can decorate them! In fact, one zero-waster recommended using regular shopping bags and decorating it by placing a used greeting card over the logo but you could glue any pretty picture over it, from an old magazine or calendar. You could also place a photograph over the logo and let that be part of the gift (grandparents would love a photo of their grandchildren, for example).

Alternatives to buying wrapping paper

Furoshiki (Fabric)

Two furoshiki wrapped gifts
Image by Weekend Knitter on Flickr. Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.

Furoshiki, a Japanese tradition of wrapping items in cloth for carrying and gift-giving. Often the fabric is meant to be reused for other purposes. This is an eco-friendly and gorgeous way to wrap gifts and it’s the one I primarily use now. I love pretty fabrics, and even though I’m striving for minimalism, I always have a box or two of fabric in the house. What a beautiful way to give gifts! Here are three I’ve done:

Fabric wrapped gift, pink satin

Fabric wrapped gift, red leopard print

Fabric wrapping is also good for odd-shaped or sized items, such as this one:

Tube shaped gift in fabric, red leopard print

It’s easy to learn but it does take practice. I’ve linked a few other helpful resources below under Additional Resources. You can buy fabric remnants at fabric and craft stores for small pieces. Some companies offer unique innovations related to fabric wrapping. For example, Lush Cosmetics sells Knot-Wraps, their version of Furoshiki but they are meant to be used again as a scarf or tote – so it’s like giving two gifts. They are made of either organic cotton or two recycled plastic bottles, and the wraps are gorgeous!

Homemade wrapping paper

I’ve made wrapping paper from many different things! This takes some time but it’s easy and allows for creativity.

Magazines:

This is one of my favorite ways to upcycle old magazines! I glued random magazine pages together to make large sheets. After wrapping, I let my son decorate the package. Please note, this is also before I switched to the paper tape, so you’ll see Scotch tape on the gift as well as a plastic bow I reused:

I collected a few old art magazines to make wrapping paper. The next two images show one of the large sheets I made, and the images below those show wrapped packages using that paper.

The brown paper tape is hardly noticeable on these packages.

Another publication I used was High Five magazine, a popular children’s magazine. We had several years’ worth so I just grabbed one older edition and tore out the colorful pages. You can see in the following images how I glued individual pages together until I had one large sheet:

Here’s a gift I wrapped:

Child art:

This is another favorite, especially for gifts to family members. You can glue pieces of child art together and make a large sheet, just like you would with magazine pages. It makes this wrapping paper truly one-of-a-kind! Grandparents will be delighted with original pieces of artwork wrapped around the gift you’ve chosen for them.

You can even just use one coloring book page to wrap small gifts. Here’s one I wrapped last Christmas with a single sheet (but with plastic ribbon and a gift tag I still had leftover):

Reclaimed books:

You can use pages from old books to make wrapping paper – children’s books, photography books, or just plain pages of text from books. You can find cheap books at any thrift or second-hand store. Many used bookstores, such as McKay’s here in Tennessee, have a “free” bin of unwanted books. These are items that were not accepted by the store but that people did not want back. I have not personally tried this method but think it would be really cool. What a great way to honor these books and upcycle!

books on table
Photo by Min An from Pexels

Toilet paper wrap:

Toilet paper rolls from Who Gives A Crap
Toilet paper rolls from Who Gives A Crap

You can use the decorative paper from toilet paper rolls from Who Gives A Crap toilet paperhis eco-friendly company makes recycled and bamboo toilet paper and gives 50% of their profits to help build toilets in places where there are none. I’ve been using this toilet paper since writing my post about toilet paper in 2018. The paper wrappers on these rolls can be used as gift wrap and the company even makes a special holiday edition.

This has become a regular method in my home. You can place stickers or pretty pictures over the logo if you want to cover it up. Here are images of the large sheet of wrapping paper I made and the wrapped gift:

Newspapers or Brown paper

Newspapers or Comics:

You can use the old-fashioned method of using newspapers. This is what many of our grandparents did.

Brown paper:

Cut brown paper from grocery store paper bags or leftover builder’s paper into the size you need and wrap away! Once you’re done, you can color it or paint it with your favorite medium. You can ask your child to help too!

Thank you for reading!

I hope this helps you reduce waste year-round! If you have other ideas about DIY wrapping paper or reducing gift wrapping waste, please leave me a comment below – and don’t forget to subscribe!

 

Additional Resources:

Article, “Furoshiki: Japanese Gift Wrapping,” Marie Kondo (KonMari), accessed January 16, 2021.

Article, “How to: Furoshiki (Japanese fabric wrapping),” One Million Women, December 22, 2015.

Article, “Think Outside the (Gift)box: 3 Ways to Wrap Gifts With Fabric,” Craftsy.com, accessed December 23, 2020.

Wrapping with Fabric: Your Complete Guide to Furoshiki - The Japanese Art of Wrapping book coverBook, Wrapping with Fabric: Your Complete Guide to Furoshiki – The Japanese Art of Wrapping, by Etsuko Yamada, 2014.

 

 

 

 

All photos in this post were taken by me unless otherwise credited.
* This is the only affiliate link in this post. Earnings help support the costs of running this blog.

Footnotes:

Only You Can Prevent Beach Trash

Trash with the words "100% Leakproof" on it
“100% Leakproof”

In my recent post about my trip to Hilton Head Island and its environmental consciousness, I mentioned that the beaches are really clean and well maintained. Even with their efforts, I still picked up about 300 pieces of trash during my week there. Of course, I logged these into my  Litterati app (also see my post on Litterati).

I thought I could put the images of my trash to good use, to show people how they can prevent beach and ocean pollution!

I bet you already know a lot of this. But if you share this post, it might enlighten others who will then use preventative measures. And then the world can be a less polluted place!

Common Types of Beach Trash

I noticed that the same types of trash commonly appear on beaches all over the country. So I’ve divided this post into sections based on the common types of trash I’ve found.

Image of a Plastic water bottle in the surf.
Plastic water bottle almost in the surf.

Plastic drink bottles and caps

These are the most common items I pick up EVERYWHERE, and not just on beaches. Our love affair with drinks in single-use disposable plastic bottles and cups (I’m including styrofoam in this classification because styrofoam is chemically a plastic) is completely out of control. I even picked a red Solo cup that I used to collect cigarette butts and microplastics! Here’s just a few images of the many single-use disposable drink items I picked up:

What can you do?

Buy a reusable drink container (or two) and use that for all your liquid refreshments. I have two: a Kleen Kanteen for water; and a Hydroflask coffee cup. They handle pretty much everything.

If you must buy a beverage, please dispose of it properly.

Food and snack wrappers

I find this type of litter on the beach (and everywhere else) very often. This includes food wrappers, containers, zipper bags, etc. Below is an image of a washed-up cannonball jellyfish next to the plastic lid of a cylindric chip container.

Plastic bottle cap next to a washed up jellyfish.
Plastic lid next to a washed-up jellyfish.

Here are some additional examples of food and snack wrappers:

What can you do?

Follow the saying, “Leave it cleaner than you found it.” Or “carry in, carry out.” Don’t lose track of your trash and disposables. Put them inside of your beach bag until you can find a proper trash can. You can also consume less prepackaged food, which will be better for your health as well.

Beach Toys

This is one item that is particular to beaches but so easily preventable. Children scatter and lose their things easily, and almost all beach toys are made of plastic. When these items are left on the beach, they go straight into the ocean during high tide.

Toy pink crab sand toy.

You can see how easily small toys are overlooked in the next image. Can you guess what that is?A toy buried in the sand.

If you guessed a toy car, you’ve got a good eye! A toy car buried in the sand.

Here are some other examples of left behind or broken toys:

Yellow plastic toy boat.
We found this and my son named it “Mr. Boat.” It’s the only toy we kept – the rest we donated.

In particular, we found multiple plastic bucket straps, as they are not usually permanently affixed. These are easily forgotten about but this cheap plastic will make it into the ocean by the next morning.

There are a few brands, such as Green Toys, that features a rope strap that is not easily removed. The bucket is even made of recycled plastic. It’s the one we own and play with year-round.

What about the packaging for all of those beach toys?

A plastic net bag that the plastic beach toys were sold in.
A plastic net bag that the plastic beach toys were sold in, from American Plastic Toys Inc.

Below are images of a discarded boogie board left at a wash station near the beach. I’d seen these little styrofoam balls lining parts of the beach and I couldn’t figure out what they were from. I did not manage to get a good photo of them. Once I found this broken board and looked at it closely, I could see that these are cheap boards are simply nylon or polyester fabric (fabrics made from plastics) over styrofoam. You could not make a worse product for the beach – a product meant to be used in the water that is made of cheap materials and not meant to last more than one vacation – WOW.

Please don’t buy these. This one made it into a proper trash can, but how many end up in the ocean?

What about the dog’s toys? These can be easily lost. And yes, they are made of plastics and other synthetics.

A yellow tennis ball made by Kong.

What can you do?

The best thing you can do is to not leave beach toys behind, obviously. The best way to keep track of your children’s toys is simply to own less of them. Perhaps just one bucket and one shovel, for example. In general, kids don’t need many toys when playing outdoors to stay entertained and engaged. Besides the sand and water, the beach offers so many shells, sticks, seaweed and other washed up items that kids are curious about and love to experiment with.

Place broken toys in your beach bag immediately so that it doesn’t get left behind.

As for dog toys, how about throwing a stick for Fido instead of a ball or plastic Frisbee?

Items related to smoking

This is another common item I find everywhere and not just at the beach. Cigarette butts are made of synthetic materials that do not biodegrade. Plastic lighters are found in the stomach of birds and marine animals. Honestly, I used to smoke a long time ago and I sometimes threw cigarette butts on the ground. I had no idea how bad they were for the environment. I pick them up regularly now as part of my Litterati mission, as I feel like I owe the environment for this terrible habit I used to have.

Cigarette lighter lying in the ocean's surf.

I gathered dozens of cigarette butts and several lighters on the beach, here are a few examples:

I also picked up plastic tips from Swisher Sweets, which if you’re not familiar, are inexpensive flavored tip cigarillos.

What can you do?

Don’t smoke! But if you do, can you please discard your waste properly?

Straws

Aren’t straws like so last year?

No, not really. Not yet. Despite straw bans in different parts of the world.

Everywhere we went in Hilton Head served straws, sometimes automatically in the drink. I’m not criticizing the Island for this, because it happens in my town too. But I hope all eateries eventually end this practice. The exception was the Watusi Cafe on Pope Avenue, which served paper straws – thank you!!!

What can you do?

Ask the server to not give you a straw before he or she brings your drink. I used to decline the straws when the server would set them down on the table, but since so many places automatically put them in the drink I try to cut them off at the pass. Once that straw is opened and in a drink, it doesn’t matter whether or not I use it – it will now be trashed.

I don’t use a straw very often anymore, but if I need one, I have my Final Straw.

Plastic Bags

I still found a couple of plastic bags on the beach despite the town’s ban on plastic bags!

What can you do?

Decline plastic bags no matter where you live! Bring your own cloth bag.

If you don’t have a bag, can you carry your items without one? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stopped at a store and purchased one item that the cashier bagged. I don’t need a bag for one item! Give them the bag back right away and say thanks but no thanks!

Many stores do have a paper bag option if you ask for one. If not, they likely have an empty box readily available that you can put your purchases in.

Beach tent/umbrella parts

Many people bring their own beach tents and umbrellas to the beach, but there is sometimes waste associated with those items. Below you can see where I found a plastic tent stake accidentally left behind and a zip tie of which I found several. The last image is of a full plastic water bottle tied to a nylon string. I found this buried in the sand but the string was sticking out. Once I pulled it out, it was obvious that this was most likely used as a weight to hold something down. Clever – but forgotten, an immediate pollutant – this would’ve been in the ocean after high tide.

What can you do?

Collect all of the parts to your tents and umbrellas, even if it’s trash. Double check before you leave that you haven’t forgotten anything.

Everyday Non-Beach items

I find many items on the beach that are not necessarily beach items but items that people use daily. These items include wet wipes or baby wipes (most often not made of anything biodegradable even if the packaging makes that claim); dryer sheets; plastic dental picks; cellophane; condom wrappers; and even a bullet casing (pictured below).

Wet wipe or baby wipe in the sand
Wet wipe or baby wipe
Wet wipe or baby wipe in the sand
Wet wipe or baby wipe
Dryer sheet in the sand
Dryer sheet
Bullet casing on the beach
Bullet Casing

The most surprising things I’ve found on a beach were plastic tampon applicators in the Gulf of Mexico. At first, I thought, there’s no way someone changed their tampon on the beach! But I found not just one, but multiple of these and I’ve also since found them along the Tennessee River. It dawned on me that these items were not left behind by careless beach-goers, but more likely washed up from trash and from sewage disposal that made it into the ocean. It turns out they are colloquially known as “beach whistles” among litter collectors.

"Beach whistle," or tampon applicator
“Beach whistle,” or tampon applicator

What can you do?

In general, the best thing you can do is cut down on disposable items and especially single-use disposable plastic items. Even if you’re not leaving these items on the beach, they’re making it onto the beaches and the items are only a portion of what’s washed up from the ocean. Meaning, there’s way more in the ocean.

The answer is to not use disposable items. It sounds difficult, but it can be done. Just work on solving one problem at a time – that’s what I’m doing and sharing with you on this blog!

Beach sunset

Thanks for reading, please subscribe in the box above. Love your beaches and ocean. And keep being the change!

This post does not contain any affiliate links. All images in this post were taken by me.

Plastic Free July!

Hi everyone, July is almost here! What does that mean for you? Hotter weather, fireworks and barbecue, maybe a new fiscal year?

Well, did you know it could also mean PLASTIC FREE JULY?!

What is Plastic Free July?

“Plastic Free July is a global yearly challenge where millions of people give up single use plastic during the month of July. It aims to raise awareness of the amount of single-use disposable plastic items in our lives and challenges people to do something about it.” 1millionwomen.com.au

I wanted to write a short post to introduce you to this annual challenge. It was created by the organization plasticfreejuly.org.

Why Go Plastic Free and Not Just Recycle?

Because only 9% of plastic sent to recycling actually gets recycled.

Because recycling is NOT the answer.

Because plastic has entered every ecosystem across the planet.

Plastic containers of convenience food at the supermarket.
Plastic is embedded in our culture, especially surrounding convenience foods. Photo by me.

Let go of Shame

Are you just discovering the ramifications of disposable plastics? Or are you still struggling to take your first step toward eliminating disposable plastic from your house and life? Or have you already gone plastic free?

Whichever situation you find yourself in, the first thing you need to do is let go of any guilt or shame. I don’t want you to feel those emotions when it comes to your habits surrounding plastics, because negative feelings won’t propel you to action.

I want you to feel enlightened, hopeful, enthusiastic. If you’re just starting and you’ve already thought about these issues then you’ve already consciously taken the first step. Go you!

Sign up to take the Challenge!

Resources

There are many organizations, websites, films, and social media groups dedicated to the plastic crisis and about going plastic-free. I’ve listed my favorites on my Recommended Websites page. Please check out some of my other posts related to plastic here and here.

Sea turtle on beach sand.
Image by Amanda Martino on Pexels.

Beyond July

July is a great month to become aware of the problems and to start. However, once July is over you can keep going! You can help prevent the plastic crisis from getting worse. Be the change!

Before you go, if you have four minutes, please watch this video from The Story of Stuff Project:

Thanks for reading, Happy July!