Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: Those Pesky Plastic Bags

By: Guest Blogger Van Burbach, Ph.D, P.G.

As an environmental consultant whose work has focused on landfills for over 13 years, I can tell you that plastic bags are the bane of every landfill! Go to any active municipal solid waste landfill and you will see plastic bags everywhere: in the trees, stuck to fences, floating in retention ponds, clogging storm drains. They are next to impossible for the landfills to control. The wind catches them, and they are gone.

This is really bad news for the environment, because many of those plastic bags escape the landfills and end up in our streams, rivers, lakes, and oceans. They are a hazard to fish, birds, and wildlife in general. Animals often accidentally ingest them or get entangled in them. They take hundreds of years to degrade in the environment, but as they do, they release toxic chemicals into the soil and water.

The good news is that there are a number of things ordinary people like you and me can do about it. As with so many things in the area of solid waste, the solution is three-fold: reduce, reuse, and recycle! The first thing we can all do is to reduce the number of plastic bags we use. Take reusable cloth bags with you to the grocery store, or any store, rather than taking your purchases home in plastic bags. If you forget to take them, ask for paper bags. Use reusable cloth or silicon storage bags or reusable glass storage containers to store food in your refrigerator instead of buying so many zip-lock bags.

I also recommend reusing the plastic bags you do get. Flour tortilla bags and bread bags are great substitutes for new zip-lock bags, and zip-lock bags can often be rinsed out and reused multiple times. Some people have come up with creative ways to reuse plastic bags. There is a group of ladies at our church who take plastic grocery bags and weave them into mats for homeless people. I have even seen clothing made from ironed out plastic bags!

Finally, if there is no further way to use a plastic bag, it can be recycled; however, do not just put it in your recycling bin. Most municipal recycling programs are not capable of handling plastic bags and they can really mess up the equipment used to sort recyclables, sometimes causing whole loads of otherwise recyclable goods to have to go to the landfill. Most grocery stores, as well as stores like Walmart and Target, have recycling programs for plastic bags. Often, they will even take things like newspaper bags, bread bags, or clean zip-lock bags. Please check with your local stores to see what their programs are and what they will take.

Plastic bags are a huge national and global environmental problem, but solving this problem begins with you and me. Please do your part to be a good steward of this beautiful planet we have been given. The earth and animals will thank you, and so will the landfill workers!

Van is an environmental geologist and a geophysicist working to create safer, cleaner landfills and protect the environment. He has been married to Lisa for 6 1/2 years and together they have a Shaklee business, working together to help others lead healthier lives, live younger longer, and protect the planet.

Please feel free to comment and ask questions

Whoa Man, Chill! It’s Good for Your Health!

Whoa man!! Chill! No really! We live in a wound-up, up-tight, stressed out society! People feel pressured to meet deadlines, keep up with all of the family events and games, be here, be there, do this, do that and do it flawlessly. We are constantly hearing negative news, getting caught up in arguments in social media, and trying to do more than we can handle! Frankly we have created a society where no one can meet the standards, at least consistently and it’s killing us. A little histrionic? No…it’s true. Stress is slowly killing us.

Stress can be positive, fight or flight is a great example. If I’m in danger I want my adrenaline flowing, heart pumping and I want quick action, however most of the time our bodies are staying in this state of emergency, creating chronic stress, which wears us down, quite literally, over time. Studies have shown that stress decreases our telomeres, protective ends to our chromosomes, and when our telomeres are gone so are we (over simplified scientific concept, but the general idea).

Stress signals a serious or reactions to our nervous system, musculoskeletal system, endocrine system, reproductive system, Gastrointestinal system, and respiratory system. Each system pulls out the emergency response system and gets ready to fight off the danger, or perceived danger. Staying in this emergency state causes damage.

Some of the effects of chronic stress:

  • Heartburn
  • Nervous habits
  • OCD
  • Decreased immune system
  • Panic attacks
  • Apathy
  • Forgetfulness
  • Lack of focus
  • Chronic illness
  • Increased anger, depression, anxiety, hostility, mood swings…
  • Weight gain
  • Headaches

The list goes on, BUT we can help manage our own stress and calm ourselves. In the Blue Zones, a study by Dan Buettner and National Geographic they found that the groups of people who lived the longest also were very good at managing stress. They were able to “let it go” and so can you.

Here are some ways to help you get started. It might also be a good idea to consider going to a good counselor who can help you let go of things that have been especially hard to let go of.

  • Laugh – Read a funny story, watch something funny online, remember something that makes you laugh every time
  • Friendship – take the time to develop relationships with positive people who will provide a safe place for you to express yourself. Don’t try to carry the world on your shoulders alone. Talk it out.
  • Exercise – We all have heard that exercise releases endorphines (feel good hormones) it’s true. Exercise also expends pent up energy, plus when we are angry and agitated our bodies release fatty acids thinking we are ready to burn some serious fuel, when it sees that we aren’t it can often settle at the heart. Exercise will help this process.
  • Walk outside – I know, I said exercise, but studies have shown that walking in nature is especially good for helping us to de-stress and feel better. So, you know…walk it off.
  • Turn it off – Take some time each day, especially at the end of the day, to turn off the electric devices, shut down the emails, stop watching the news, just unplug.
  • Meditation/prayer – In as little time as 60 seconds we can begin to experience the positive benefits of meditation. Creating a routine of meditation can be beneficial not only for stress management, but also pain management and it boosts our immune system. Part of meditation is breathing, slowing down and taking your time to breathe deeply and clear your mind. A good app to help you get started is Headspace. I have a Bellabeat fitness tracker and it has a nice guided meditation section that I use. I’ll be honest, at first I thought it was boring and silly, but now I can’t imagine not meditating, I feel like a different person than I did before. It takes time and practice, be patient with yourself.
  • Yoga and stretching – A great yoga pose to help you de-stress is Viparita Karani, or legs up the wall. Yoga is a great blend of meditation, stretching (poses), and breathing. Yoga has been proven to help reduce blood pressure, help with stress, and build our immune system. Stretching can help release muscle tension, clear our minds, and relax.

There are many other ways to take the stress off, I like to sit down and do some watercolor. What do you like to do? What helps you chill man?

This month’s Yielding Action Newsletter has more to say about Stress – Don’t Worry, Be Happy.

I received my Master Health Coach Certification from the Dr. Sears Wellness Institute, founded by world-renowned physician and author, Dr. William Sears. The Institute is a leader in science-based health and wellness education that focuses on the four pillars of health; Lifestyle, Exercise, Attitude and Nutrition (L.E.A.N.). A certification by the Dr. Sears Wellness Institute is obtained only after completing the extensive course work and meeting all requirements. Once certified, a Health Coach possesses the knowledge, tools and resources to make a positive difference in the health of others.

My Husband Van, an Environmental Geologist, and I are also Independent Shaklee Distributors and enjoy helping people and the environment. We believe the like Shaklee does that the home should be the safest place you go, and we help you create that safe place.

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