By Dr. Lisa Knowles, Intentional Dental Consulting
It’s hard to fathom what 500 years from now will look like, but I do know one thing that will be around if our planet still exists: plastic. Plastic takes about 500 years to biodegrade — if ever. Scientists estimate this number of years based on extrapolated figures using a respiratory test. They take a sample of plastic and see how long it takes microorganisms to digest the plastic. The amount of CO2 respired is the measured indicator of degradation. Except with plastic, no CO2 is made. Instead, plastic is dependent upon photodegradation. And no one is certain how long it will take the sun to complete this process. So, 500 years is the current guestimate.
I could not help myself from thinking about the amount of plastic consumed in our daily lives. After thinking about this sobering 500-year fact, I started to think beyond my traditional reduce, reuse, recycle mode of environmental consciousness. I thought I was doing a decent job of preserving the planet and educating my children about consuming less, but once I began to think with the end in mind — as Steven Covey recommends in “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” — I realized the end for plastic may never come. With that realization, I began my plastic witch hunt at home and in my work places. (Please note that there are pros and cons to paper and plastic usage, and this article focuses on plastic).
Here are 10 ways to taper the plastic temptations:
- If you have to use plastic, ensure that you are buying a piece of plastic that was made from recycled plastic. There is no need to make more new plastic than we already have on this earth if we do not need it. There is a type of toothbrush called Preserve that is made from 40 percent recycled yogurt containers. It’s a start. When you do buy plastic, recycle it after using it. Every piece of plastic thrown in the trash ends up buried in a landfill, and it will not see the light of the sun. There is no chance it will photodegrade. That plastic toy, fork, bubble wrap or fast food container will likely be there for eternity.
- Ask for less packaging, and think ahead and eliminate plastic bags and wraps. Take reusable cargo bags or backpacks to drug stores, grocery stores, shopping malls and markets.
- Ignore the undereducated or put off checkout worker who looks at you with grief when you ask for paper bags (or no bags) while gathering up your purchases. And, choose retailers that gladly offer environmentally conscious check out options.
- Consider less disposables in your office. We chose sterilization pouches from Enviropouch instead of thousands of little plastic bags for each instrument cassette. When I price compared how much it takes to buy the bags and all of the wrapping and taping products, the Enviropouch purchases evened out. When I add in the long-term cost savings to the environment, the Enviropouch killed the competition.
- Think about purchases on small things like polishing disks. I could have purchased a kit with plastic polishing disks and rubber attachments that came packaged in a plastic holder, but I chose the paper sand disks that come in a small rectangular cardboard box. Sure, it’s not as fancy looking, and it’s not the latest and greatest packaging and marketing color-pleaser. But, it pleases the environment, and it was much, much less expensive.
- Insist on a recycling program within your office. The amount of stock we all receive in our offices is extensive. When stock, cardboard boxes go into the landfill, it takes up unnecessary space, and landfills get used up faster. Landfills are inevitable, but we can reduce the rapid filling of them by recycling every thing that is possible. Shredded office paper and regular copy paper can be recycled (shred the confidential materials).
- Print on both sides of the paper and use fonts that use less ink. Comic Sans is a font that uses much more ink than some others. Patrick Allan, author of a Life Hacks article recommends Calibri, Times New Roman or Century Gothic; be careful with Century Gothic, however, because its wide font uses more paper. Use draft mode or fast mode to use less ink when it’s not crucial to have the best quality. The less ink we use, the more money we save, and fewer ink cartridges go into a landfill. Do not forget to recycle the ink cartridges. Most office supply stores take those back and recycle them.
- Save all the paper and ink costs and waste by emailing documents and using shared file folders within the office. Although paper biodegrades faster, the pollution factor for paper and plastic manufacturing is quite high. Paper mills often use bleach to whiten paper and this releases dioxins into our waterways and grounds around paper mills.
- Find local recycle events to recycle unusual things like batteries, bicycles and eyeglasses. My local event (Ingham County, Mich.) is called Recycle Rama. Also, unwanted medicine often is taken at these events, and great for us to remind and recommend to our patients when they ask us what to do with their unused prescriptions.
- Be an advocate for environmental consciousness. The healthier we keep our environment, the healthier we keep our bodies and minds. Clutter clogs our minds and physically impedes our outdoor recreation. Pollution from manufacturing plastic and paper produces potentially harmful diseases and illnesses in our bodies and increases our overall health care costs.
When we begin with the end in mind, and actively help to promote a total health and wellness environment for our patients, the choices we make as business owners and health care professionals can impact the environment and our way of life for years to come — maybe even 500 years to come. Small changes in our daily lives not only save us on business costs, but also helps to preserve the future health of our planet and of our patients. As health care professionals, shouldn’t we be leading the way?