So, an open letter to Tom's of Maine (a copy also sent directly to the Consumer Dialogue Dept.):
June 9, 2011
Tom’s of Maine Consumer Dialogue Department
302 Lafayette Center
Kennebunk, ME 04043
I wanted to show you something that washed up on my beach in Saco, Maine April 25 this year.
This is an aluminum toothpaste tube. It wasn’t littered by a beachgoer, or tossed out a car window. That’s not what happens to toothpaste tubes. It was thrown in the trash, and somehow managed to get into the ocean. That’s what litter does. Always has, always will. But notice: This aluminum tube is already disintegrating back to nature. It is becoming aluminum oxide, the stuff of soil that the world has evolved with over billions of years. In months it will disintegrate and be gone.
Your new plastic toothpaste tubes never do this. When littered into the environment -- as they will be -- they’ll persist. Nothing in nature knows how to return plastic to its building blocks. Your new tubes will run down gulleys, then rivers, eventually the ocean. There they will remain plastic. Even as they photodegrade into small bits, they’re still plastic. They will float, collecting in one of the massive gyres of plastic soup now swirling far from land. There, they will either get ingested by a sea animal, get stuck, and starve it to death... Or accumulate toxins to ~100,000 times background levels, killing more quickly... Or be spit back onto someone’s shore, perhaps distant, perhaps somewhere on the Maine coast, fouling it.
This is the result of our plastic world:
|One of 1000s of albatross on Midway who died eating plastic|
This has happened in just a couple generations. Under our nose and on our watch. Environmental studies claiming plastic as a better alternative are fundamentally flawed. They don’t account for pollution or persistence. Or the poor recyclability. Aluminum is melted down; impurities are easily skimmed off, and the aluminum can be back on the shelf in weeks. A truly closed loop. Plastic cannot be superheated to sterilize. It must be clean to be processed, which is why major recyclers don’t accept plastic toothpaste tubes. Your take-back scheme, though laudable, only downcycles the waste. And as few consumers will spend money to return your tubes to you, most tubes you sell have a one-way trip to the landfill... or the ocean.
I believe that Tom’s of Maine is genuinely forward-thinking, ecologically responsible. I believe that you have switched to plastic thinking that you are doing a good thing. You are not. You have been misled, and the pollution that your new products will cause will just add to the persistent ecological disaster of our times. Please be a true leader and buck the plastic tide.
Thanks for your time.
The Flotsam Diaries