But can’t you just burn plastic?


This week I am visiting my family down South where my Aunt, Uncle, and eight cousins reside. Since I only get to see them one week out of each year, I cherish this time dearly. My little cousins grow incessantly, and I am shocked to say a few of them are my height now, and one who towers over me. Time really does fly.

Anyways, today, (a Wednesday,) my cousin came up to me and said, “Emily, did you drink out of one of those bottles yesterday?”

He was pointing to the refrigerator, which is holding dozens of plastic water bottles. I did, and confused as to why he was asking, I skeptically answered, “Yes…why?”

Now this cousin has an Instagram, so we follow each other. And if you follow me on Instagram, you’d know just like he does that I am involved with the Plastic Free Tuesday movement, and a big advocate of ‘environmentally conscious’ decisions.

He called me out, and it really was the cutest thing ever. He said, “What about Plastic Free Tuesday Emily!?”

Amused and taken aback for being called out on my not-so-plastic-free-Tuesday, I realized how right he was! (I was also so happy that he knew what PFT was, and that he even paid attention to what I posted. I must admit, I was so excited.) But, what a big mistake…it really is so easy to get caught up in your day and use something plastic.

Laughing the rest of the night because he kept teasing me and he was so right, ( I even heard the word hypocrite a few times) we bantered back and forth about the PFT movement, and for the sake of arguing like so many kids love to do, he kept saying how flawed and ridiculous the idea of no plastic was. When I explained how recycling doesn’t really do the trick, he kept telling me that was irrelevant, and we can use as much plastic as we’d like because we can just burn it! By burning it, it wouldn’t be stuck in our Earth, he explained.

What an interesting thought. Too bad burning plastic is just as bad as throwing it into a landfill.

But the reason I chose to write about this is because unfortunately, a lot of people, including my family members, really do think that it’s okay to use as much plastic as we want, because we can just burn it and it will go away.

I cannot stress how untrue this idea is.

Most people who burn their plastic and waste do not realize how bad it is for both themselves and the environment. A common misconception is that burning it makes it disappear, and since it’s turned to ashes it can’t possibly be a threat anymore. The truth is, the act of burning plastic releases horrible toxins into the atmosphere and our lungs, and those toxins are here to stay.

Burning waste in your backyard has proven to be far more harmful than people think. According to WECF (Women in Europe for a Common Future) it can ‘increase the risk of heart disease, aggravate asthma and emphysema, and cause rashes, nausea, headaches, damages in the nervous system, kidney or liver, in the reproductive and development system. The burning of polystyrene polymers, like foam cups, meat trays, egg containers, yogurt and deli containers, releases styrene. Styrene gas can readily be absorbed through the skin and lungs.’

Burning plastic releases the chemical dioxin, a highly toxic environmental pollutant. According to the World Health Organization, or WHO, dioxins are ‘highly toxic and can cause reproductive and developmental problems, damage the immune system, interfere with hormones and also cause cancer.’

WHO explains ‘Once dioxins enter the body, they last a long time because of their chemical stability and their ability to be absorbed by fat tissue, where they are then stored in the body. Their half-life in the body is estimated to be 7 to 11 years. In the environment, dioxins tend to accumulate in the food chain. The higher an animal is in the food chain, the higher the concentration of dioxins.’

As you now know, there is no easy way around plastic, and there is certainly no ‘quick fix’. Until then, the only way to be safe and to stop feeding the plastic monster (as PFT friends would say) is to avoid plastic all together.

For more information on dioxins and the danger of burning plastic waste, visit wcef.com and who.com.


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  1. I’m with you all the way. There is nothing more I would like to see that a ban on most plastics, especially in the food industry. Where can you buy a chunk of cheese that isn’t shrink wrapped in plastic? But it extends far far beyond food, and we are now seeing it in our fences and decks, our interior & exterior house trim. It’s everywhere. Think about this, look at all those homes burning in California. Imagine all the plastic that were in those homes. Whenever there is a car fire, think of all the plastic. While we are taught not to burn plastic ourselves, believe me, we are probably a tiny fraction of the plastic going up in flames on a yearly basis. But it’s not just burning it that’s bad, it’s having so much contact with it on a daily basis that’s bad, and then there’s the waste problem too. At this point we could probably make a fairly large populated island from all the plastic waste we have disposed of world wide. It’s just getting worse every year. Eventually, when I don’t know, but eventually we will have to not only confront this problem head on but also work on limiting its use to just the necessary things that should be plastic, and get back to glass and paper products for our food. We have to make recycling more of an order. It’s horrible that we have so many one time usage containers in the market. Containers that 100 years ago, would have been very valuable.

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