How To Reduce Plastic Pollution
We all know the song and still sing the words at the top of our lungs when we happen to hear it on the radio. Yet, it's not the song you want stuck in your head. It sings with a haunting truth like a guilty conscience now more than ever. Try to go through your day without using plastic. It’s practically impossible. Even if you’re a zero-waster you’ll encounter it at work, at the coffeehouse, at your favorite restaurant, at your next doctor appointment, even during a swim at the beach. Our plastic world is scarier than it’s shiny, durable, convenient facade let’s on. Yet, the full impact of our dependence on plastic is about as flimsy as those grocery plastic bags. Chances are your favorite happy hour cocktail comes with two plastic straws plopped in it. The next time you need to store a half cut onion what will you use? Handy dandy plastic baggy? To fully grasp how plastic had molded into just about every aspect of our lives we have to peel back the plastic wrap from our eyes.
Truthfully, life is fantastic. We live in a modern world where we have learned to manufacture a product like plastic that is durable, moldable, and not easily degradable. Our innovativeness with plastic has led to miraculous discoveries in the medical industry. Plastic helps to maintain the infrastructure of our society from underwater pipes to electrical insulation. Its indestructibility has made it a necessary part of our lives. Yet, that same quality has also made it a pollutant. Plastic went from being used as a helpful tool to a harmful one meant to be disposed of after one use even though it can take 400 years to degrade. Yes, you read right. That single-use plastic iced coffee cup you guzzled through in a few minutes doesn't just dissappear when you throw it in the trashbin. Remember that swirly straw you loved when you were 5? Or, what about that plastic Disney princess bowl from your 7th birthday? Chances are they still exist and will exist in our environment long after you and your children have passed on from this planet. Plastic is a useful resource but plastic pollution is an unsustainable waste of that resource.
Life in plastic is becoming more and more of a reality. 2 million metric tons of plastic were produced in the year 1950 when the plastic boom was fueled. That number jumped to 380 million metric tons in just 2015. Since 1950, we have produced 8.3 billion metric tons of new plastics and thrown away 6.3 billion of it, thanks in large part to the global popularity of single-use plastic packaging. Of that plastic waste, only 12% has been incinerated and 9% has been recycled leaving the vast majority to sit in landfills or float into the ocean. Besides, unsightly beaches littered by plastic the risk extends to the health of marine life that ingest pieces of plastic and onto the humans that ingest them. Recent studies by Ghent University in Belgium and Plymouth University in the U.S. show that people who regularly eat seafood ingest tiny plastic particles that float in the ocean. Plastic pollution statistics are incredibly unfathomable. So, here's some perspective.
- 8 million metric tons of plastic ends up in the oceans every year. That's the equivalent to five grocery bags of plastic trash for every foot of coastline around the globe.
- By 2050, it’s projected that the number of plastic waste sitting in landfills will be 35,000 times as heavy as the Empire State Building.
- By 2050, it’s also projected that there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.
- Shoppers worldwide are using approximately 500 billion single-use plastic bags per year. If you joined them end on end they would circumnavigate the globe 4,200 times.
- Nearly 1 million plastic beverage bottle are sold every minute.
- There are five floating “garbage patches” on the ocean. The largest is twice the size of France and growing exponentially.
As the global population grows, with developing societies wanting Western conveniences such as water bottles at every gas station, the demand for single-use products will also grow. Unless, we change the disposable culture we've become so accustomed to.
So, what's a Barbie girl do when living in a plastic world?
Get real. Stop hiding behind those pesky jaded plastic sunglasses. Commit to real-world solutions for plastic-world problems.
Websites like Plastic Oceans are great resources for information. Their love of the oceans and desire to reduce pollution spurred the creation of the film "A Plastic Ocean" which can be watched on Netflix. Or, try The Smog Of The Sea which chronicles scientists as they assess the fate of plastics in the world’s oceans. The week long journey provides an even more disturbing perspective on plastics in our once pristine oceans. National Geographic launched "Planet or Plastic" for the June issue, a multi-year initiative to drive research and awareness of the global plastic crisis. Stay up to date at their online hub, use the #planetorplastic hashtag challenge, and/or take their plastic pledge. Earth Day 2018's theme was "End Plastic Pollution". Visit their website for challenges and a plastic pollution footprint calculator! It's hard to manage what you don't measure. Take a week or two and collect all the plastic you would dispose of, regardless of if you would normally put it in the recycling bin. Then, observe. If you make the conscious effort to pay attention to your plastic waste you'll immediately start to see opportunities to recycle, reduce, or reuse more.
Most plastics that we encounter daily are made from polyethylene terephthalate (Pet) which is highly recyclable. Yet, 91% of plastics aren't being recycled. Plastics range from hard, rigid containers to thin, transparent films which can make recycling confusing and daunting. Luckily, the American Chemistry Council cares about this topic and realizes the need for educating and simplifying recycling. They created Recycle Your Plastics to be a resource on recycling plastics. Or, visit the website of your local waste management facility to learn more about recycling plastic in your area. This is key because regulations vary by city. Check with your favorite brands to see if they have recycling programs like Pacifica Beauty. Customers can print shipping labels from Pacifica's website to recycle their used plastic containers which will then have a new life as a Preserve product. And, if you must buy plastics, purchase brands that use recycled plastics, some even from ocean plastic pollution, like Girlfriend Collective's amazing workout wear. Or, consider Matt & Nat who uses 21 recycled plastic bottles to make the lining for every bag they produce. Several swimwear brands have stood true on their love of the ocean by designing swimsuits made from recycled and recovered fishing nets: Salt Gypsy and Amara Tulum.
REUSE & REDUCE
We live in a consumer driven society that perpetuates a disposable culture. We're now at a point where the only way to move forward is to take a few steps back. Reducing usage and eliminating single-use plastics is key in folding plastic pollution back on. It's feasible. You don't need 100 plastic grocery bags underneath your countersink. Knowing what the alternatives are helps the plastic mountain seem scalable. Here's a few ways to hack away at that plastic obsession:
1. Reusable grocery bags are a practical and accessible switch. You see them everywhere whether it's a canvas bag or a woven tote. Plastic bags can feel flimsy when filled up. They rip easily and are quite a hazard for younger children. Who needs em?
2. Avoid pre-packed foods in plastic. Seriously, why do my apples need to be prepackaged in a plastic bag? Even worse, avocados! They have a hard outer skin. Place them into your grocery cart like they are. What about rice, quinoa, and grits that come in those plastic pouches? Most grocery stores have a bulk section where you can purchase those items by filling your own containers. Skip the middle work! Bring in your mason jar or cute container that sits on your kitchen counter and fill that directly!
3. Reusable produce, bread, and bulk pantry bags are usually made out of meshed natural fabrics or canvas bags. They replace those rolls of thin plastic bags in the produce section, plastic pouches for rice, beans, quinoa, and other pantry items. And, are more breathable for bread to stay crisp on the outside and fresh on the inside!
Related Post: Sustainable Grocery Shopping Guide
4. Compostable trash and doggie poop bags are found in most supermarkets and pet stores. They break down in landfills or compost piles and may even be included in your city's waste removal services. You'll often see on a compostable product, "compostable where commercial facilities are available". If your city doesn't have a commercial facility capable of handling compostable products at least you know they won't be sitting in a landfill for hundreds of years like the plastic equivalents do.
5. Stainless steel razors aren't just for men. That plastic Barbie of a razor you're using now has met it's match and she isn't from Venus. She's sleek and chic while being gentle on your skin and the environment. The energy used and emissions generated to create plastic razors just to cut off miniscule strands of hair is ridiculous. The market is labeled "disposable razors" for goodness sakes. The idea is to encourage us to use and dispose of these plastic pollutants when the cuter, newer version is released or the razors get dull because they're not designed for us to change them ourselves!
6. Buy bar or bulk soaps. Pre -bottled soaps in plastic containers don't clean skin any better than their unbottled competitors. In fact, the ingredients listed on those bottles are often toxic and/ or drying to skin. Bar soaps typically use natural and fewer ingredients. Being able to see and smell the actual product adds a peace of mind since you will be using it quite intimately. Check for a bulk area in the beauty and toiletries section the next time your grocery shopping. These areas allow you to refill bottles of soap, shampoo, conditioner, and even lotion instead of encouraging a throw away metality after finishing each product.
7. Pass on the plastic mesh poufs for your showertime. Why do these even exist? Oh yeah, cheap convenience in a rainbow of colors! There are so many natural counterparts out there: organic cotton wash cloths, natural loofahs made from sea cucumbers, or natural mesh poufs often made from ramie. Don't fall for the gimics. And, if you must buy a plastic one, there are several companies making them from recycled nets and are then recyclable themselves.
8. Stainless steel to-go/ sandwich/ picnic containers. An entire culture flourished in the 50's and 60's of Tupperware women. There were Tupperware parties and advertisements targeting the "modern woman" that created an almost elitist atmosphere around plastic containers. You couldn't be Suzy Homemaker without it. Well, time's are changing again Suzy and our home Earth doesn't like those plastic containers as much as you do. Besides, it takes just as long to fill, clean, or store a stainless steel one as it does a plastic one! The plastic party is over.
9. Reusable coffee cups and water bottles are nothing new. Chances are your mom sent you to school with a thermos or to soccer practice with a sporty water bottle as a kid. Then, came the phase where we "grew" out of those chunky bottles we had to carry around when mom no longer did. Who's got time for that when your favorite coffeeshop has their own branded plastic cups and single use plastic water bottles are literally in every store even clothing and electronic ones? Well, instead of representing those companies that don't give a damn about the planet how about you represent yourself an dyour values with a stylish reusable cup or bottle? Besides, recent studies have found that pre-bottled water contains microplastics in it. The Earth doesn't have time for that!
10. Reusable straws can easily be acquired made out of stainless steel and paper. But, how often do you need a straw anyways. Another option could be to refuse plastic straws when at a restaurant instead of even buying a non-plastic alternative. This is one area where we can challenge consumerism. Is there even a need for it? Of course, some children, elderly, and people with disabilities need straws more that the average person.
11. Reusable storage baggies and bowl wraps made of compostable material, silicon, beeswax (for non-vegans), or even fabric are more sustainable than plastic ones. By the prolific use of zip plastic baggies you would think they were the only option! Luckily, they're not and their substitutes often exceed in functionality. And, how annoying and scary is tearing off plastic wrap? It always sticks to itself and or gets caught on the pointy metal strip meant to help cut it.
12. A clean kitchen doesn't require plastic. Need a dish drying rack? Opt for bamboo or stainless steel. What about a spice rack? You can find those in bamboo and stainless steel too. Pot scrubber? Utensils holder? You guessed it. There are more eco-friendly alternatives than the common plastic options you've been used to. Start buying glass spice jars instead of plastic ones and then refill them at bulk locations that sell spices! Need a cleaning sponge? Instead of just grabbing the first one on the store shelf, read the label and opt for natural sponges as opposed to ones made of plastic.
13. Dishes, cups, and utensils are often made of glass, steel, and ceramic. Yet, plastic is still a contender for those looking for break-proof or child-proof options. You can find bamboo (preferrably) and silicon options that are more sustainable that plastic.Or, what if you're having a party and temporarily need twenty of each? Compostable plates, bowls, cups, and utensils are probably on the same shelf as your well known party packs and just overlooked. They're just as sturdy as plastic and more so than paper options.
14. Ladies let's get real. You're not Barbie. Plastic products pushed into our vaginas are not the only answer. We all know plastics are toxic yet we continue month after month like mindless Barbie dolls. With a range of washable pads, menstrual cups, period panties, organic disposables, and even natural sponges available we have no excuse. After a year of experimenting, Natracare has held up to yoga, running, hiking, living in a camper, you name it. They even offer liners in a thong shape (Oh, the excitement!). Washable pads and menstrual cups were a bit impractical in the camper with limited water access but if your lifetsyle is less nomadic, they are an awesome zero-waste, toxic-free option.
These are just some of the ways you can kick plastic to the curb. In fact, you can even do it in recycled plastic trash bins if you need to. Several countries and U.S. states have started implementing various plastic bans. Seattle has banned plastic straws and utensils as of July 2018. The United Kingdom, Australia, Kenya, San Francisco in California, Seattle in Washington State, and Washington D.C. have all banned plastic bags. India, a country plagued by plastic pollution just passed a policy to ban all single use plastic by 2022. Just look up Juhu Beach and you'll see why this was such a monumental decision. Progress is being made and while our personal pledges make a world of difference, we also need to get policy put in place to back us up. Where is your city on plastic pollution?
All of the above eco-alternatives are ones that We The Wildflowers has committed to in our daily lives. We took the month of July to reassess and set realistic goals of what we can accomplish. We found bulk stores near our current home base and where we will be traveling in the coming months to make sure this is possible. We're always looking for new eco-alternatives to learn about and would love to hear your hacks! We'll continue sharing and updating our finds on Instagram well past #plasticfreejuly and hope you'll hold us accountable.