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Waste Is Woeful—Secret Plastics

By Amelia Young for BCN #134

April 7, 2021

Hey there, beautiful people. This is Amelia and you're reading Waste Is Woeful, a column where I talk about, haha you guessed it, waste!

Today I'd like to discuss something very near and dear to all of our hearts: plastics.

Readers, I'd like you to take a look at your heart, right now. What do you see?

My heart is covered in cloth. Like many of you, I am wearing a shirt, and like some I am also wearing a bra. Both of these garments are made of fabric. But what IS fabric? At the Boston Compass we like to get our info from the source. At the back of my shirt there is a tag that says, "95% COTTON, 5% SPANDEX." The one in my bra reads, "82% NYLON, 18% SPANDEX."

What are those?

Like many Americans, I turn to the internet in times of uncertainty. Apparently, spandex is a polymer fiber designed by chemical engineers and present in 80% of US clothing as of 2010. Nylon is another chemically engineered plastic. It is derived from coal and petroleum, its creation releases an extremely potent greenhouse gas called nitrous oxide, and 80-100% of all nylon ever made winds up in landfills. Both of these materials are non-biodegradable and shed "microplastics," minuscule plastic particles that ferry pathogens and toxins throughout the food web. They've been found on all 7 continents and in most of the world's beer.

Yikes! I need to sit down.

My favorite rocking chair has a "natural" look, but the headrest is 100% polyurethane foam, which is also derived from fossil fuels and contributes to the microplastics crisis. It's highly flammable and extremely hazardous when burned, so it's been further treated with toxic flame retardants. The finish on my chair's wooden armrests is a polyurethane synthetic varnish. Its production releases powerful VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) which are toxic to the humans who make, use, and dispose of it.

Down the hall to get some milk for my queasy stomach. The coating on the milk carton is polyethylene, a non-biodegrading, petroleum-derived plastic that releases potent greenhouse gases when exposed to ambient solar radiation. The kitchen's "latex" wall paint is actually acrylic, a non-biodgegradable, non-recyclable, and fossil fuel derived plastic that generates microplastics.

[whispers] It's everywhere...

Looking around the apartment, I'm pissed. I'm extra pissed because fossil fuel companies and plastic producers want this problem to continue. NPR and PBS Frontline recently exposed that plastic recycling is not viable, and that plastic companies have lied about this for decades to increase sales.

What can a person do? "Consumer solutions'' start to smell pretty funky when you realize polluters are pro-puchasing. Buying less might be a place to start. I've joined online groups like Everything Free, Buy Nothing, and Zero Waste Beginners Boston where neighbors share items, ideas and labor for free.

Bigger picture, though, I think we need to take down the whole system. Here are some organizations that target the capitalist, big corporate roots of plastic waste:

Stop the Money Pipeline:

Alternatives for Community and Environment:

Extinction Rebellion:

Chelsea Green Roots:




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