Boulder man tries – and fails – to live plastic-free

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Plastic GroceriesA few years ago Boulder ecologist Michael SanClements took on an “eco-dare.” His goal: to try to live without creating any plastic waste for two weeks.

SanClements soon discovered it was impossible, but he learned a lot along the way and wrote about the experience in a new book “Plastic Purge: How to Use Less Plastic, Eat Better, Keep Toxins out of Your Body and Help Save the Sea Turtles!”

SanClements, an ecologist at the University of Colorado at Boulder and the National Ecological Observatory Network, says he thought of himself as an environmentally conscious person before he embarked on his plastic-free experiment. But, in the end, he found that plastic is everywhere.

“You can’t go through a day in this society or in any society without touching plastic hundreds and hundreds of times," SanClements says.

While SanClements wasn’t able to completely eliminate plastic waste, he did find some easy ways to reduce his use of plastic.

One obvious change was switching from a plastic water bottle to a metal one. A less obvious one: he stopped using aluminum soup cans, which have plastic linings. And he stopped using the small plastic bags in the produce section of a supermarket. He also began using glass bottles and cloth diapers for his baby.

SanClements says 300 million tons of plastic is produced globally each year and about 50 percent is used once and then thrown away.

He says aside from the environmental hazards caused by plastics, they also have compounds like BPA and phthalates, which are absorbed by the body.

“Ninety percent of the adult populace in this country has metabolites of BPA in their urine,” SanClements says.

He says these compounds can lead to reproductive health problems and obesity and are most dangerous for children. SanClements also found that things like water bottles that are labeled “BPA-free” are sometimes replaced with other, more dangerous substances.

SanClements says he broke plastics down into three groups: “the good, the bad and the ugly.” “The good” are things like phones, cameras and medical equipment, which will last a long time and whose performance is improved by plastic.

“The bad” are things like food storage containers and shower curtains, which release BPA and other toxins and have harmful effects on the body.

And “the ugly” are items like grocery bags that are harmful to the environment and easy to avoid.