I am a card-carrying member of the “Plastic Generation” and not very proud of it.

I have made an effort to reduce plastic use, but still consider myself in need of a “detox”.  Daily use includes: shower curtain, cosmetic containers and brushes, lunchboxes, food and drink containers and cooking utensils, blinds on every window, kid’s toys, dog toys…you get the point: plastic is prevalent in my life (it seems all I’m missing is the bubble).

Plastic is convenient, practical and cheap, so it’s hard to live without.  But that is my goal.  My motivation is guilt, and I have an urgent plea for the environment.  Plastic doesn’t break down in our landfills, and the U.S. recycles less than 10 percent of it, so the volume of plastics in our landfills is astounding.  It could take thousands of years to degrade, while it leaches chemicals into our soil and water sources.  

Recycling, although a great option, is not universal enough yet.   Besides, our modern society has increased consumption and packaging to the point where we offset our good intentioned efforts of filling up our little (plastic) bins.

Have you heard of the plastic island of trash in the ocean, a.k.a., The Great Pacific Garbage Patch?  Our over consumption of plastic is killing our wildlife, affecting our food chain and violating our planet. It is a monumental problem, and we need to take action quickly. 

My parents and grandparents never used plastic, so I feel responsible and appalled at what my/our “Plastic Generation” has created.  For more on the ocean tragedy (and disturbing images), visit: www.pbs.org/wnet/need-to-know/environment/an-ocean-of-plastic/2686/.

And those leaching chemicals I mentioned?  They contain potentially dangerous ingredients (which are finally being studied, only after decades of toxic exposure, thank you)!  Although the long-term effects of these ingredients are not known, plenty of recent evidence exists that should raise your brow on two key ingredients:

Bisphenol A — known as BPA, a key ingredient in modern plastics. Believed to disrupt the delicate endocrine system and lead to developmental problems.  This is especially concerning for children, who are most susceptible, since it has been widely used in baby bottles and toys without any government safety testing.

In 2009, the International Endocrine Society declared that endocrine disrupters were a significant concern for public health.  They admitted that low levels of exposure to BPA can affect reproduction, thyroid function, and metabolism and could even increase obesity.  They called for regulation to reduce human exposure and the message was heard.  The FDA has finally expressed “some concern” over BPA exposure and the Obama Administration launched a study, allocating $30 million in 2010 to research the harmful effects of BPA.

Phthalates — a class of chemicals used to soften polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastics, found in many common household products.  Phthalates are known for disrupting hormones and linked to reduced sperm counts in rodents.  In higher levels, phthalates are linked to early signs of puberty, a possible risk factor for breast cancer.  Phthalates are in so many products, and in most of our bodies already, we just don’t know exactly how much is too much. 

With the prevalence of plastic in our society, where do we start?   Awareness is key.  Be aware of the easy changes you can make, along with pending legislation and the latest findings.  Watch for upcoming In HOPE columns for further information.  Baby Step:  look for easy alternatives.  Use refillable, concentrated cleaners, buy only “BPA-free” or EVA plastic, heat and store food in ceramic or glass, use reusable bags and bottles…and before buying something, ask, ”What is this made out of, exactly”? 

When in doubt, ask a Grandparent, they remember the days before the Plastic Generation.  Share their age-old remedies or your suggestions at verdemom@ymail, I may include it in a future column, In Honor of Planet Earth!

In H.O.P.E.,

Tracy Himes (“Verde Mom”)

Tracy Himes recently published her first book, "Think Outside The Bin" (an electronic recycling guide), is LEED Accredited in New Construction, is a Founding Eco-Consultant for Chartreuse, local speaker and operates VerdeMom.com and ThinkOutsideTheBin.com.