Curbing our Addiction to Plastics
Plastic is everywhere. Take a look around and you’ll be surprised! But do we need that much? No. Not really… There are solutions to reduce your plastic dependency, in turn reducing waste, saving our wildlife, and reducing your carbon footprint on our planet.
Sam recently completed a master in Biology with a wildlife conservation focus at the Miami University in partnership with San Diego Zoo Global. Her interest is to work within communities to inspire coexistence with wildlife through education and awareness.
Sam is committed to bringing an understanding of wildlife, conservation challenges, and environmental issues wherever she is physically or virtually, and whenever she can!
Outline ▸ The Truth About Plastic ■ Plastic in Numbers ■ What Can I Do?
The Truth About Plastic
We are so reliant on plastics that we don’t realize how much we actually use.
Every person uses plastic on a daily basis and most may not even realize how much they truly rely on single-use and disposable plastic. We put our produce in plastic bags; countless food items are wrapped in plastic, as well as is our electronics, clothing, and anything else pretty much. We use plastic cups to carry our drinks. We buy plastic water and soda bottles. We use plastic straws to drink from them. Sadly, even this lengthy list is only the beginning of the unfathomable amount of plastic we consume.
Initially, you may be thinking “but I reuse that department store plastic bag in my own trash can”, or “I recycle my plastic cups and packaging”, but the reality is that in the United States alone, we are dependent on plastic. We produce more than 300 million tons of plastic each year. Up to 14 million tons end up in our oceans. Americans use 500 million straws every single day, 100 million plastic bags per year, 50 billion plastic bottles per year and recycle less than 10% of what we use.
Globally over 90% of our plastics are not recycled. Those plastics then head to a landfill leaching toxic compounds in the soils. Much of our plastic waste also travel via watersheds or blow away and end up in our oceans.
Not only does it float along our ocean surface, gathering in giant garbage patches and causing our beautiful planet to look terrible, but the effects these plastics have on our marine life is far worse than cosmetic. Many animals mistake floating plastic for jellyfish or other edible creatures and end up perishing with a belly filled with plastic, others find themselves entangled in our ocean trash and may become injured or worse.
Ocean mammals, reptiles or fish are not the only ones who are suffering. Birds are known to pick up items called “microtrash” and feed it to their chicks in the nest, having no idea that it is plastic, cigarette butts, or some other form of litter. A recent study has shown that plastic has been found in over 90% of seabirds on our planet. 100,000 marine animals are killed every year from plastic.
Plastic is not a ‘natural’ material, it does not biodegrade, but rather its chemical compound encourages it to break into smaller and smaller pieces resulting in disastrous consequences for our wildlife on land, air, and sea.
This is a global epidemic that is 100% treatable with a bit more awareness and compassion, and a few minor adjustments for the sake of our planet.
Plastics in Numbers
▹ Every bit of plastic ever made is still on our planet, in a landfill, single-use bags will take over 1,000 years to degrade.
▹ Plastics marked as ‘biodegradable’ do not degrade rapidly in the ocean. Such plastics require long-term exposure to high-temperatures (around 122F, or 50C), like those found in large municipal composters, to actually break down. Those conditions are usually not found in nature, and especially not in the oceans. The labeling ‘biodegradable’ is also believed to trigger more littering, with supposedly biodegradable plastics being perceived as a technical fix that removes responsibility from individuals.
▹ 91% of all plastic is not recycled.
▹ 8.8 million tons of plastic trash ends up in our oceans every year. If we don’t act now, by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.
▹ 50 million plastic bottles, with nearly 38 million ending up in landfills. Globally, humans buy a million plastic bottles per minute. It is estimated that over half a trillion plastic bottles will be sold in 2020.
▹ Of the 100 million plastic bags used annually, only 3% are recycled.
▹ The average American throws away 185 pounds of plastic per year. Americans discard 33.6 million tons of plastic each year, and only 6.5% is recycled.
What Can I Do?
There are many ways to reduce your and your family’s dependency on plastic. If we can all work together and do our part, we can greatly reduce our plastic dependency.
▹ Bring your own grocery bags, and not just to the grocery store
While many grocery stores have banned plastic bags, other stores have not. Department stores, convenience stores, mall shopping, all may still bag up your purchases in a plastic bag. Each reusable bag you carry can eliminate over 1,000 plastics bags in its lifetime. Carry your reusable bags everywhere, and never need a plastic bag again! I use Baggu brand bags as they fold up into a tiny pouch that I can carry in my purse and expand to hold 2 grocery bags worth of food.
▹ No more plastic bottles!
Invest in a reusable bottle you can take anywhere. I carry a stainless steel water bottle, and I have a coffee mug for the summer and a warm mug for the winter. Hydroflask brand is a great option for keeping your drinks hot or cold and comes in small sizes for children, all the way up to large travel sizes.
▹ Stop sucking
Every single day, we use 500 million plastic straws — that is a staggering number. Straws are not essential for anything, they do not carry items, or hold drinks, or package goods, and they are in no way necessary for us to drink any kind of beverage. Still, many of us don’t think much about straws and happily accept them at restaurants, fast-food chains and more. Sadly, these straws end up in landfills, and more often than not, tend to blow away due to their small size and weight and end up in our oceans. Approximately 700 marine species are in danger of extinction because of plastic resulting from entanglement, pollution, or ingestion. The Lonely Whale Foundation has launched a campaign called Strawless Ocean featuring the hashtag #stopsucking that is working to encourage people to stop using straws.
However, if you, like me, can’t say no to the straw altogether, then say no to the single-use plastic straw and opt for one of many alternatives. Paper, stainless steel, glass, and more have all been introduced and can be used in your home and carried in your bag for an easy way to say “no thank you” to the plastic straw no matter where you are.
▹ Replace your Ziplocs with reusable bags/containers
Ziploc bags are found in households all over America. We use them for kid’s lunches, leftovers and more. The average family uses over 500 Ziploc bags per year. Instead, try reusable containers which can package your lunch, are washable and therefore are reusable over and over again. There exists also reusable zip bags that seal in freshness and reduce waste like Blue avocado reusable storage bags.
▹ Bag your produce in reusable mesh bags instead of plastic bags
Some grocery stores have moved away from the plastic bag dispenser and have elected to carry small paper bags for your produce, but you can take this one step further to eliminate waste altogether. Mesh produce bags are a great way to separate and bag up your produce. Produce stays fresh in the breathable bag and closes with a drawstring to ensure your produce is secured. Mesh produce bags can fit easily in your car right with your grocery bags.
▹ Eat fresh foods, avoid processed, packaged foods
Another way to greatly reduce your waste and plastic consumption is to eat fresh. Not only are you reducing waste, you are also eating healthier, it is a win-win for you and your family! Natural foods do not usually require a bunch of packaging, fresh grains, fruits, and vegetables use little to no plastic packaging.
▹ Be a ‘Rs’ practitioner & advocate
When you throw items away, remember, there is no “away”. It’s time to rethink our use of plastic.
It’s important to acknowledge that many plastics are not recyclable. And when they are recyclable, they can only be recycled so often (usually 2-3 times) —meaning that they will reach a point where they can’t be. In short, once plastic enters the system it never disappears.
So the best is still to follow one of the many Rs principles that are out there to help us memorize how to curb our plastic usage. Here is, for instance, a 6Rs model:
Refuse » Reduce » Reuse » Repurpose » Recycle
The diagram on the right adds a few other interesting dimensions.
We like the 6Rs, “simply” because it’s “simpler” and generally “the simpler the better”.
To summarize: Refuse plastic when you can, and favor glass, paper, stainless steel, wood, ceramic and bamboo over plastic (yet remember that they also come with an environmental cost even if a lesser one); Reduce plastic anyway; Reuse and share with others. Repurpose what you can. For instance, reuse an old yoga mat as foot pads for furniture, or as a door mat, etc. And last: Recycle what you can’t refuse, reduce, reuse, repair or repurpose.
Pay attention to the entire lifecycle of items that you bring into your life, from source to manufacturing to distribution, to disposal.
▹ Give a hand & help clean the trash
When out and about and encountering plastic trash: Find public recycling bins, or just bring it home and recycle there. We are all guilty of throwing recyclable goods in the trash because there was not a recycle bin nearby. Remember, if you have waste, and it is recyclable, do not dump it in a trash can. Whatever we throw away, does not go “away”, there is no away. Do your part, if you can recycle it, recycle it. Bring it home if you have to.
There’s so much we can do, and more than often at a low cost for us, other than the effort of remembering. So let’s remember together, and then feel good about it…
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Sept 11th 2017 | by Samantha Sullivan
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