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You line up at the cashier after combing through the grocery store and, while you wait, look down at your cart. You realize you’ll be leaving with much more than you planned for and haven’t brought enough reusable shopping bags to carry it all.

What do you do? You could leave the line, making the walk of shame to replace a dozen items on the shelves. Or you could use the plastic bags at the end of the counter and cower under the judging looks of those behind you in line. Neither sounds appealing, but the easiest choice would be to use the plastic bags. Can they really all be bad?

Well, that depends. Believe it or not, there is a whole army dedicated to manufacturing plastics that won’t be harmful to the environment, and it all starts with plastic resin. Here are the basics of how your plastic bags come into being.

What is Plastic Made of?
Plastic usually comes from fossil fuel byproducts like petroleum; however, they can also be created from renewable materials like corn, cotton, and potato starches. These products are broken down in a process called “cracking”, and after some pretty cool chemical reactions, you end up with polymer resins. These polymer resins can then be combined with dyes and other chemicals to produce the right kind of plastic for the job.

What is Plastic Used for?
The way plastic is used is determined by the combination of additives it contains. There are seven common types of plastic, which can loosely be defined as PET (Dacron or Mylar), styrofoam, PVC, Teflon, Saran, polyethylene, and polypropylene. You might be familiar with most of these and will know from experience that some are made to be flexible, some dense, others to withstand higher melting points, and so on.

According to the American Chemistry Council, there are natural polymers like tortoise shells and animal horns that homo sapiens made use of before modern plastics were introduced in 1862. Today, we use them in everything from bags to bottles, coatings for beverage cups, packaging products, medical instruments, parts for cars and airplanes, toys, and everyday tech like your laptop and collection of pens. The more you think about it, the more you’ll realize how dependent we are on plastics.

How Durable is Plastic?
The life expectancy of your plastic items is categorized by the term durable or nondurable. Durable plastics last three years or more, while nondurable plastics are classified as any product lasting less than three years.

It takes an estimated 500 years for plastic to break down in a landfill. Serious environmental issues like this have prompted more focus on the creation of products like NuPlastiQ that come from renewable materials (in this case, potato starches) and are compostable and/or biodegradable rather than simply broken down into microplastics. Many of these come certified, so manufacturers and consumers can be sure the environment isn’t suffering.

Which Plastics Should I Avoid?
An easy way to start sorting out which types of plastic to avoid using is by checking the Plastic ID Code. You can find this on the bottom of the bottle or container inside the “recyclable” triangle logo. Generally, polypropylene (#5 PP) and polyethylene (#2 HDPE or #4 LDPE) products have a low toxicity that is okay.

So use that plastic bag cautiously, and if you want to see more positive changes toward the use of environmentally friendly plastics, do some more in-depth research on your own and advocate for manufacturers and other large corporations to change out their current plastic resins for those that are biodegradable and compostable.
Now that it’s spring, it’s time to look out for those pesky potholes, and with the bipolar weather we’ve had, you can bet they will be pretty bad. Not for the first time, you’re wondering what the big deal is with potholes anyway. Well, here is the quick explanation you’ve been looking for.
Why Do They Form?
When water gets into the ground under the pavement, it can contract and expand, causing the asphalt to crack and break up. The more it cracks and the more it is aggravated by vehicle use, potholes can form.
Unfortunately, this newly created pothole now offers even more access for moisture to settle underneath the pavement. The cracking will not only get worse, but the road’s integrity will weaken around the site.
When Do They Form?
You typically see potholes in areas with temperatures that fluctuate from above to below freezing and back. For this reason, you’re probably more likely to have scarred roads in Idaho than in sunny California.
We see potholes appear in the Spring because of the large amounts of melting snow which soak into the ground. If temperatures have fluctuated throughout the winter (think of those days the streets were filled with slush, then were followed by super cold, icy days) the weather likely began its work early on. Now you get to see it’s puddle-filled masterpiece.
Can They Damage My Vehicle?
Yes, driving over a pothole can damage your vehicle. The seriousness of the damage will depend on the size of the pothole and the condition of your car at the time of contact.
Because of this, you should always drive carefully and avoid potholes when possible. For those situations where you aren’t able to avoid hitting one, your car will fair better if your tires are inflated appropriately, your steering is in good shape, and your shocks aren’t too worn to cushion the impact.
How Are They Repaired?
Asphalt repair is something people typically think must be handled by professionals hired through the city, and you can contact the city if there’s a repair you believe they should make.
But if you have your own asphalt drive or walkways, it’s important for you to know where to go. You can search for companies which specialize in paving and asphalt repair in your area either online who through recommendations from trusted friends or colleagues.
Or, if you’re feeling handy, you can buy an asphalt patching kit to make the repair yourself. There are plenty of additional instructional articles and videos to walk you through the process online if you need them.
Are There Road Construction Alternatives?
Some exciting proposed alternatives to our current road construction are things like self-healing asphalt (created by a materials scientist in the Netherlands), altered concrete composition to reduce environmental impact, or even adding bacteria to mixtures where it can then fill in cracks as it produces calcium carbonate.
Though these options may not be used yet, believe it or not, road construction today is better and safer than it has ever been. There are multiple types of asphalt mix to suit different roads and area conditions, and these roads have a lifespan of about 50 years.
So unless you want to start laying your own cobblestones, stick with the current road system and watch for the new innovations to come.