Saturday, August 18, 2012

Deplastification.... both outdoors and at home.

Befor you start to read, let me get one thing clear: I am not a treehugging hippy nor am I an enviromental extremist. I am just a concered outdoorlover and above all father.                           Deplastification - A word I made up myself, but it perfectly describes a proces me and my family (in varying degrees) are going through. I am trying to get rid of all, or at least as much as possible, plastic or other artificial materials.
Many of you have seen the natural vs. artificial-discussions soemtimes raging in the outdoorworld, all over the web, on forums and in blogs, but I think it is time to show you why and how I am doing my share to reduce my ecological footprint. Because that, for me, is a major contributing factor. It isn't just my feeling of discomfort with manmade materials and fibres. It is also a part of the legacy I want to leave the world, my children and their children.
Apart from the fact that I firmly believe natural materials are better for mankind to use, they also polute far less, both in production as in use and, much more, when they are discarded.
I admit I did and still do use a lot of plastics and other materials in my outdoorhobby/lifestyle, simply because they are so abundant and cheap. I also have to say that I was shocked to see just how much plastic is used! You find it in cloths, shoes, backpacks, tents, tarps, sleepingbags, cooking- and drinkingutensils etc. etc. You can literally wrap yourself completely in plastics and related materials. Allthough I respect and understand the choices people make concerning their gear, I must say that on the other hand I am concerned about what is needed to produce, and later to get rid off, these pieces of equipment. But that is something to think about and a choice each has to make for his/her own.
I started out using a lot of military surplus and you find large quantities of plastics in that gear. Using surplus however means being able to get around with a limited budget and, when you look at it, you actually use "garbage", discarded items, which thus get a second life and do not end up on the garbagedump. As said I still do have, and use, military surplus, but it gets replaced by a similar item without plastics, when ever it breaks or needs te be replaced. Those who are willing to look for, and use, old military surplus are often able to replace these plasticcontaining items with wool, canvas, leather or metal items, but that does come at a cost. It costs extra cash and you have to be willing to carry the extra weight. I have noted that it is getting increasingly difficult to obtain gear made from non-artificial fabrics for an affordable prize. That goes for both military and non-military items.Try to get a wool pair of ,socks, pants or jacket for under €10......
Buying something non-military without plastics is a real challenge these days. I have yet to find a 100% cottoncanvas tarp, ready made and affordable and even cotton isn't necesserally enviromentally friendly. Finding leather to make your own belts or sheaths is often more expensive than buying a ready made item. The same goes for wool for clothing or bedding. Even wood is worth it's weight in gold in the highly urbanised western world....
So economics can be a very good reason not to choose natural..... No matter how you feel about them.

Another big factor, however, is availability. Plastic items are so abundant, so easily available and so easily discarded and that concerns me, too. It is so easy to buy that plastic bottle or that cool folding mug or that semi indestructible knife that many, or even most, of us do it without thinking twice.
This has lead me to take this no-plastic-policy one step further and try to live up to it at home on a daily basis, too.
And I was shocked again!!! Have you ever considered the amount of plastics we use in our houses and on a daily basis??? All that plastic packaging, sometimes in more than one layer.... Think of your house without plastics and what would be left?? Not all that much, 'ey?
Even here we are trying to replace broken plastic items with items made out of wood (decomposable), metal (durable), ceramics (durable and non-poluting) and even glass (as an alternative).... That goes for clothing, householdappliances and even furniture... But there simply is no getting around the stuff. It is literally everywhere! And many things aren't even available as a non-plasticproduct!
Luckily where we live, plastic is being collected separately from the regular housholdgarbage and we are quite strict in keeping it separated! It has brought down our garbage by at least 60%!! And I can only hope that that plastic is being recycled, since there's no way I can be sure of that.
I know that more often that not it seems almost impossible not to buy something that has some sort of plastic in it. I admit that we too buy a lot of stuff that has plastics in one form or another in it. Like I said, there often is no getting around it. What we buy is getting used up these days. In other words, we don't throw it away, because we don't like it anymore. We often find alternative uses for plastic packaging for instance. We reuse containers for jam or butter to freeze homemade applesauce of freshly picked fruit that isn't processed righ away. We use smaller containers of dessert or the plastic trays meat often comes in as trays to plant seeds for our garden.... To name but a few....
What we can not use anymore, but what still is serviceable goes to charityshops for instance. This way it gets a second life and we might be able to help someone in need, too.
Only what is broken, gets thrown away, but only after we have split it up into paper/metal/plastic.

Why am I rambling on and on about plastics??
Simple, we are choking ourselves and everyone and everything with that stuff, since it is not biodegradable within an acceptable period of time (unless you consider 100's of years to be acceptable) and when it does I do not want to know what traces it leaves behind..... And I haven't even started about the manufacturingproces with its waste and energyrequirments!
I believe it is time to ask ourselves what we are doing and how we can change that. After all we, the outdoorenthusiasts and selfproclaimed lovers of nature and wildlife, should give an example.... And I do believe that wrapping ourselves in too much gear that often is made on the other side of the world with synthetic materials is NOT the way to do that....
I really don't care about what the gramcounting whiners, the fashionable pretenders and Bear Grylls/Ray Mears-wannabe's are yelling. If you truely DO care about the outdoors, about nature or about wildlife, you really should ask yourself if you do need all that stuff and if you really do not have an alternative...... If not for you, than for the non-concrete world out there we call the outdoors, which we are to live in and pass on to others.

It is time to ask ourselves:
"Do I really need it?"
"Do I have an alternative?"
"What can I do with it when it is no longer needed or discarded?"

If you think it isn't all that bad.... try googling "plastic waste" for a change.....
It made me wanna cry....


  1. I think what you are doing is honorable and wise. :)

  2. As much I wish to agree, there are some contradicting economics to ponder. First, recycled plastics already make up for the majority of bulk good plastics produced annually. The material is much easier to destruct industrially without the chemical qualities lost so that its composition in new products is economically viable solution. Organic fibers and materials degrade permanently and are most often only good for inferior quality recycles or energy source by burning. Second, mass production only works with materials that enable sustaining high quality throughout the manufacturing process. Natural grown fibers are much more expensive to produce these days but they only work well in low amounts of production for their varying quality, difficulty of handling, necessary land use and extensive amount of growing time, susceptibility to seasonal changes, risk of crop failure, challenging of the alternative plantation such as edible produce (as is the case with biodiesel) et cetera. For the time being, fossils simply have got the advantage as the amounts today are easily tenfold, hundredfold, thousandfold or millionfold to what manufacturing used to be when only a fraction of people had enough money to buy industrially produced items. I am not saying this would continue in the future. Indeed, hemp may be the salvation where arid land or otherwise spoiled terrain must be cultivated but cannot sustain demanding conditions necessary for food crops. Third, as the capital currently invested in fossil fuels is practically a gamble and by any closer inspection simply a huge debt with nothing more than false promises designed to run our global economy, we may soon be facing a situation where this capital vanishes from the account books and a renaissance of organic plantation is becoming the reality along with chronic shortage of capital needed to produce anything in a massive scale, the time may be changing for better. How soon and with how much pain it will happen will be seen later. But the fact is we would be digging ditches for living instead of sitting in offices if plastics didnt come around in this level we now have experienced. No need for organic kuksas then for that matter. Just painkillers and that feckin' short handed shovel to get fixed.

  3. As much I wish to agree, ................. ........ economically viable solution.
    [i]- I have no idea on figures on what the industry does and uses, but if this is the case, than why are we still having huge amounts of plastics on garbagedumps??[/i]

    Organic fibers ................. energy source by burning.

    [i]- That is nonsense. They do degrade, true, but it is also much easier to take care of them and mend them, prolonging their life and usefullness conciderably. Plastics on the other hand degrade and/or get brittle and there's practically nothing you can do about that or at least not to my knowledge. All you end up with is a pile of thrown away, cheap stuff, that is either broken or simply unwanted.[/i]

    - Second, mass production ................................. (as is the case with biodiesel) et cetera.
    [i]- From a productional point of view you might very well be right. But I strongly feel that massproduction induces massconsumption and leads to unacceptable amounts of waste. I firmly believe that if goods were a lot more expensive, people would take much better care of their things and would make sure these things would last or get repaired, when broken. This would dramatically reduce wastelevels on all fronts and what would go to waste would be degradable.[/i]

    For the time being, ............................ for food crops.
    [i]- Or you turn it all around. Less demand would result in less production. Waste not, want not. A matter of mentality.[/i]

    Third, as the capital .......................... l happen will be seen later.
    [i]- First you say that they are plentyfull and abundant, but now it is a gamble to invest in fossil fuels?
    A very good reason to start relearning selfsufficiancy to a certain degree. Growing your own crops and lifestock lowers the demand on the market and you'd know what you'd be eating; real food. That would also drastically cut down on the need for energy to transport and store foods from elsewhere[/i]

    But the fact is ................ we now have experienced.
    [i] That is complete nonsense. Don't know where you get your "facts" from, but I suggest reinvestigating your sources.[/i]

    No need for organic kuksas then for that matter. Just painkillers and that feckin' short handed shovel to get fixed.
    [i]- And what we are left with are soft, fat and mushy officejockeys, who, deprived of natural light, vitamines and healthy food, put a huge strain on all sorts of facilities, like cars, airco's, meds, junkfood etc., creating a completely new and totally unnecessary economy.
    Honest, fysical work has killed or crippled far less people than sitting in a cubical all day, staring at a screen.

    And I could go on and on and on.... but the bottomline is that we need to forget about consumersociety and cut back, both on supply AND on demand.[/i]

  4. I think both viewpoints are valid even if the details or economic assumptions about consumerism might be way off. The blogger clearly has a deeper level idea about deplastification than the Anonymous realizes. To me it appears that plastics are problematic in their ability to crank up the economy as a whole and thus overburden our environment for even further financial benefit.

    The plastic industry states the upsides of plastic use with arguments that compare current economy and material consumption with equal state without plastics, but that kind of comparison is not realistic. Whole areas of industry would simply not exist without plastics. Packaging would be far less if food was still wrapped innnewspaper. Let's have a look at what Plastics Europe says at

    "Lightweight plastic packaging reduces the weight of transported goods and the amount of waste created – both of which reduce greenhouse gas emissions. If all plastics used in packaging were substituted with alternative materials it would be equivalent to adding another 25 million cars to European roads.
    Nearly 40% of all energy consumed is used in buildings. Plastic insulation helps our homes to stay warm or cool in a sustainable, eco-efficient way.
    Plastics enable the blades in wind turbines to be longer and, therefore, more effective. Plastic components in solar panels increase their efficiency and make them more affordable.
    Paradoxically, the more plastics we use, the less resources we need
    Results from PlasticsEurope’s report from Denkstatt AG (The impact of plastics on life-cycle energy consumption
    and greenhouse gas emissions in Europe, June 2010), confirm that without plastic packaging it is estimated that the tonnage of alternative packaging would increase by a factor of almost four. Greenhouse gas emissions would rise by 61% and energy consumption by 57%.
    Plastic packaging protects food as it travels from farms to supermarkets and then into our kitchens.
    In the developing world, 50% of food is wasted during this journey whilst only 2-3% gets wasted in Europe. At the supermarket, losses of unpacked fruit and vegetables are 26% higher than for pre-packed produce. 1.5g of plastic film can extend a cucumber’s shelf life from 3 to 14 days. 10g of multilayer film
    for meat extends shelf life from a few days to over a week. The amount of CO2 used to produce a single portion of meat is almost 100 times more than that used to produce the multilayer film used to package the meat.
    The innovative use of plastic in modern washing machine drums reduces water and energy consumption by 40-50% compared to older models. Plastic pipes ensure efficient, safe and leak free transportation of drinking water and sewage, avoiding waste or contamination, and reduces the energy required for pumping."

    Obviously the high loss of edible foods in the develooing markets (around 50%) cannot be attributed to the lack of plastic use for packaging. There is simply not enough buying power to buy fridgeration, pest-proof containers et cetera with the already high price of produce there. Plastics alone would not save the meat from getting spoiled. Besides, plastics only make the long distance transportation to richer countries economical, for no one else could afford tropical fruit hauled across half the planet anyway.

  5. However I agree about carbon footprint. A plastic item has smaller footprint than an organic equivalent. On the contrary we must compare whole economies, not single items. We would not have plastics if we did not have oil. Oil also made the green revolution possible, and oil enabled the human population to explode. How good is that.

  6. Sorry for the Finnish. A recent study indicates plastic bags have a carbon footprint that ranges from 1/53 to 1/324 in comparison to that of a cotton alternative. The latter figure takes into account the cumulative accounts of freshwater spent on irrigation, transportation and manufacturing processes.

    "Kangaskassi on hyvin ekologinen vaihtoehto, mutta sitä pitää käyttää keskimäärin 53 kertaa, jotta se olisi ilmaston kannalta parempi kuin jatkuva muovikassien käyttö. Jos huomioon otetaan myös vesijalanjälki, puuvillakassia olisi käytettävä 324 kertaa muovi- tai paperipussiin nähden."

    Moreover, once the cotton bag is discarded, its material cannot be recycled as fiber for new fabric. Most thermoplastics can be reused partially (e.g. bags) or fully (PE bottles) by grinding and melting.

    Ekologisuuden mittareista hiilijalanjälki on ikävä kyllä aika rajoittunut. Tänä päivänä on olemassa kirjava joukko erilaisia mittaustapoja kuten hiilijalanjälki, vesijalanjälki, kestävyysarviointi, yhteiskunnallinen jalanjälki ja cradle-to-cradle-sertifikaatti. Näistä tunnetuin on hiilijalanjälki. Sen, kuten kaikkien vastaavien menetelmien, heikkous on se, että se mittaa vain yhtä vaikutusta. Se ei aina ota huomioon sitä, että jotkut materiaalit, kuten muovi, säästävät käyttöaikanaan enemmän fossiilisia polttoaineita kuin niiden valmistamiseen kului.

    Aidosti tasapainoinen ja mielekäs menetelmä ottaa huomioon monenlaiset tekijät, kuten ilmastonmuutos, otsonikato, happamoituminen, rehevöityminen, luonnonvarojen ehtyminen, myrkyllisyys, maankäyttö ja vesi.

    Anonymous claimed "recycled plastics already make up for the majority of bulk good plastics produced annually." This is not true. In the US, more than 90% of plastic waste is dumped in landfills (80%) or burned for energy (<10%). I would not expect the figure to be much different for Europe, let alone the "developing" world. For most everyday plastic such as packaging, it is still much cheaper to manufacture from new plastics rather than to use recyclable plastic.

  7. Thanks for the replies and additional info, people!
    I greatly appreciate that. Appearantly this post has hit a nerve and I am happy to see people responding and sharing info. That's what is't all about and what makes it worth the effort.