“We are living on this planet as if we had another one to go to.” ~ Terri Swearingen
Five Easy Ways to Use Less Plastic.
I lived in the Bahamas, my husband’s home country, for 10 years.
In a small island nation, you can’t escape the effect of your lifestyle. There is no place to throw “away” your trash, except the local dump or the ocean.
In such a spectacular setting, seeing plastic was a common occurrence—on the beach, on the water, on the side of the road. There was no first-world infrastructure to insulate us from the waste we created, and it was impossible to ignore the problems that plastic is causing. It’s taking over our landfills, filling our oceans and poisoning our marine life.
Plastic never goes away.
When I moved back to the United States last year, I had access to more consumer options and worked at using less plastic. When I started to pay attention, I realized how ubiquitous plastic really is in our lives. This started me on a path to launching a business, Plaine Products, in partnership with my sister.
Convenience can seem to solve our problems. Forget to bring a water bottle? Grab plastic one while filling up your tank. Hosting a gathering? Use plastic utensils to make clean up easy. Don’t want ice clicking against your teeth? Plastic straw to the rescue. What makes all of this possible? Plastic. Plastic packaging keeps costs so low we don’t think about the purchase, we just buy. But there are costs for all of this convenience. We just don’t pay them when we check out at the cash register.
Plastic is designed to last forever and yet half of all plastic is single-use, which means it is used once and thrown away. But there is no away. If plastic is sent to a landfill, it sits and slowly breaks apart, usually over hundreds of years, leaching toxic chemicals into the ground and polluting groundwater reservoirs.
If it doesn’t go in a landfill then plastic ends up in the ocean. There are estimates that 10 percent of all plastic produced is floating in the sea. If we keep producing plastics at predicted rates, by 2050, plastic will outweigh fish pound for pound, according to a report by the Ocean Conservancy.
And, believe it or not, 80 percent of marine waste comes from inland sources. Since plastic is so light, items from illegal litters, dumps, and landfills blow over to streams and rivers and are carried to oceans, or washed up on beaches. The Environment Protection Agency (EPA) has found that 33 to 66 percent of these items are single-use plastic packaging.
Even though recycling is helpful, it doesn’t solve the plastic problem.
Unfortunately, recycling only delays a plastic item’s trip to the landfill or ocean. When plastic is recycled, it is downgraded into a lower form of plastic until it becomes unusable, and is eventually thrown away anyway. This is in contrast to materials like aluminium, stainless steel, glass, and paper. When they are recycled, they are turned back into exactly the same material with no loss in quality. They can be recycled infinitely and need never end up in a landfill.
Despite the advantages of other packaging materials, our demand for plastic keeps growing. Worldwide use of plastic has increased 20-fold in the past 50 years, and it is expected to double again in the next 20 years. By 2050, we’ll be making more than three times as much plastic stuff as we did in 2014, and our landfills and oceans will be overflowing.
The good news is that, unlike so many other issues we face, there is a way to solve this problem. We can use less.
Here are five easy steps we can all take, today:
1. Carry around a reusable water bottle. The key here is remembering to bring the water bottle with you to the gym, in your car running errands, to work. If you don’t have it on hand, those plastic water bottles are all too tempting.
2. Put reusable bags in your car and/or in your purse. I owned a number of reusable bags, but never seemed to have them when I needed them, which often meant I tried to carry too many items out of the store in my arms, dropping a few along the way. It seems to work if I keep the larger ones in the car and a few smaller ones in my purse.
3. Start refusing plastic straws. Every day on this planet, half a billion plastic straws are used once and then thrown away. The easiest thing to do is to refuse them before they are dropped off at the table. However, if straws are super important to you, as they are to my son, there are superb stainless steel and glass straw options out there.
4. While shopping, pick items without plastic packaging. As I’ve become more aware of plastic, I’ve tried to start looking for different packaging options. Aluminum, steel, glass, and cardboard are best. That’s a big part of the reason I started my company. We were looking for a way to use less single-use plastic in our own bathrooms and there weren’t a lot of other packaging options. Another good example is sugar. Last time I was at the store I picked up sugar in a cardboard container instead of a plastic container.
5. Bring a reusable coffee/tea mug with you. I was anxious the first time I took a mug to the a shop to get a chai to go. However, instead of being shunned, I was cheered. While applause might not be the response at your favorite stop, you probably won’t be the first, and you may inspire others. Because of their waxy material disposal coffee cups are tough to recycle and usually end up in landfills.
While not using a plastic bag, skipping a plastic water bottle, or making a difference choice on packaging of your shampoo may not seem like a big deal, if we all start to make better choices it will add up.
Those small decisions to take responsibility for our waste may inspire others to rethink their choices of convenience, too.
Together we can all be the start of a packaging revolution to ensure the next generation isn’t choking on the plastic mess we created.
Author: Lindsey McCoy
Image: Author’s own
Editor: Khara-Jade Warren