Plastic is such an important material. It is used in healthcare, solar panels, toys, electronics, safe food storage and more. Plastic has become convenient for our day-to-day lives because it is cheap and easy to make. Since the 1950s, the production of plastic has outpaced that of almost every other material. However, plastic has created a daunting, environmental crisis. Our oceans have been taking the punishment of our day-to-day conveniences of single-use plastics choking and trapping marine life. Plastic bags can block waterways, clog sewers and have been found in the stomachs of turtles and dolphins who mistake them for food. Single-use plastics end up littering the environment in part because of irresponsible individual behavior, and poor waste management practices.
Plastic packaging accounts for nearly half of all plastic waste. The most common single-use plastics found in the environment are cigarette butts, plastic drinking bottles, plastic bottle caps, food wrappers, plastic grocery bags, plastic lids, straws and stirrers, other types of plastic bags, and foam takeaway boxes.
Even though these things can be thrown away, it does not mean that it is easily disposable. Whether it is in landfills or in the environment, studies suggest it can take plastic up to a thousand years to decompose, presenting a very real and very urgent problem.
So what can we do?
In the long term, we can work to improve waste management practices and ban the usage of single-use plastics. Countries like Rwanda and Kenya have already banned single-use plastics and as a result, it is aiding in clearing their national parks and saving their livestock and livelihoods. Recently, China, the world’s largest consumer of plastics, announced they are also banning single-use plastics.
We can raise awareness of alternative materials like reusable bags and straws, and proper recycling of plastics.
What can I do?
Reducing your use of single-use plastics will not only help the environment but can save you money!
• One million plastic bottles are bought around the world every minute, far surpassing recycling efforts. Carry a refillable bottle with you at all times, or keep one in the car, and one in the office. Most restaurants or fast food places will happily refill your water bottle at no charge.
• Instead of getting another cup of coffee in a disposable coffee cup, carry a reusable cup for hot beverages. They make collapsible ones that you can tuck in your purse, desk or car console, and most coffee places even give you an extra discount for using reusable coffee mugs.
• Like most, you probably have a plastic bag at home full of more plastic bags. Can’t seem to remember to bring in your reusable bags? Return them to the car after you bring your groceries, or keep a spare in your console. Target has recently offered a 10-cent discount for every bag you return to the store and will apply that discount to your same-day purchase.
• Instead of using plastic wrap to store food, use a reusable container. You won’t be buying more and more plastic wrap every month when you can just put your leftovers in a container, plus your sandwiches will stop getting crushed!
These are just a few examples of what you can do to help reduce plastic waste in our environment and oceans. There is so much more you can do to help our oceans like participating in a beach cleanup or donating to an ocean conservation group like our partner, Seas Lyfe, who works to educate and campaigns to clean up our oceans.