Take a moment and think about all of the products you use or buy in one day. Now count the ones that are made of plastic or have a plastic component. Almost everything we use on a daily basis is composed of plastic. Plastic has become the product of our lives. Polyethylene, one of the most used plastics today was created in 1898. It was then re-created into high-density polyethylene in 1953 and used for plastic grocery bags. Plastic grocery bags went viral in America in 1982 when Safeway and Kroger picked them up. They were cheaper than the traditional paper bags and soon 75% of supermarkets were offering plastic. However, customers still preferred paper bags because they held more products. It took about 10 years of advocacy from plastic producers to change people's minds away from paper bags in the grocery store. Now in 2017, we are tackling this issue from a different angle by trying to switch customers usage habits away from plastic and towards reusable bags.
Many areas here in the United States such as parts of Hawaii, California, Colorado, Connecticut, and Washington have gone plastic bag free. Entire countries have also completely banned single-use plastic bags: Italy, Brazil, China, Kenya, and Bangladesh. Other countries, states, and cities have issued usage fees (www.bigfatbags.co.uk). The issue with plastic is that it never goes away. Every single piece of plastic made is still in existence today. Plastic photodegrades in the sunlight becoming smaller and smaller pieces until it becomes microplastic.
Microplastic - “extremely small pieces of plastic debris less than 5mm long in the environment resulting from the disposal and breakdown of consumer products and industrial waste.”
Source: NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, US) / Woods Hole Sea Grants, US. Graphics Oliver Lude
Worldwide, about one million plastic bags are used every minute (boomerangbags.org). When you add in other single use goods such as cups, utensils, straws, and the amount is staggering. One should not be discouraged by the world’s single-use plastic consumption problem as there are plenty of people around the globe who are trying to make a change and succeeding.
While living in Australia for three and a half years, I was fortunate to have worked with a girl named Jordyn De Boer who started a reusable bag movement. The movement was called Boomerang Bags, because like the boomerang, the bags are meant to be used then returned and used again. A grassroots community-driven movement, volunteers have made over 95,000 reusable bags. Boomerang bags is now a worldwide initiative and anyone can start up this program in their local community. The Boomerang Bags movement is a great example of how we can reduce our plastic consumption. But what about all the plastic that is already plaguing our land and oceans?
By 2050, scientists predict there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. A young man named Boyen Slat went diving in Greece in 2011 when he was 16 years old. He saw more plastic than fish. Upon returning home he decided to use the ocean’s plastic pollution problem as a high school project. He came up with an idea to build a passive system which utilized ocean circulation patterns to collect and process plastics floating on the surface of the water. He presented this idea in a TEDx talk in 2012 and was met with overwhelming support and funding. From there he devoted his time to making his idea a reality.
“Whereas other change-agents rely on reshuffling the existing building blocks of society, technological innovation creates entirely new ones, expanding our problem-solving toolbox.” In 2013 he founded the non-profit The Ocean Cleanup which develops technologies to remove plastic from the oceans. Slat's inventions are now being tested around the world. These two forward thinking people are tackling ways to reduce and recycle plastics. However, in order for global societal change to happen, we need to rethink and refuse before we reduce, reuse, and recycle.
minimalist beauty.com (zero waste)
Plastic Free July is a movement that aims to raise awareness of the problems with single-use disposable plastic and challenges people to do something about it (plasticfreejuly.org). This July I challenge you to completely stop using single-use plastics. To get started you must refuse and then rethink. This may seem difficult at first but with a little effort, it is possible. Lindsey Miles has been living a single use plastic free life since 2012. "At the time I started the challenge I thought it was pretty sustainable," Ms. Miles said. "I took my own bags to the shops and I recycled everything. And then I went home and kind of started to notice that there was a lot more plastic that I was using — and I hadn't noticed.” She started small, cutting out a few plastic items at a time and it progressed from there. Going through this process you are also forced to look at your consumption habits. The average person uses way more products than they actually need to. Living a single use plastic free life is a lifestyle change, but it an achievable one. It's something you can do right now, no matter where you live, that will lessen your environmental impact.
Here are some tips on how to reduce your plastic consumption:
- Carry reusable shopping bags
- Give up bottled water
- Shop your local farmers market
- Buy from bulk bins and use cloth storage bags
- Buy fresh bread that comes wrapped in paper
- Carry your own reusable utensils, straw, and food containers
- Bring your own containers when buying meat at the butcher
- Choose milk in a returnable glass jug
- Make your own toothpaste
- Use a bamboo toothbrush
Check out plasticfreelife.com for more ways.
By Conservation and Education Director Magen Schifilittli
https://myplasticfreelife.com/plasticfreeguide/. (plastic free)
photo credit: Raf Sands. (Sarah reusable bag)
Slat, Boyan. "The Economist". The Economist.