Last year, I wrote about seeing plastic waste wash up on a beautiful island. The immediate visual impact of those two unlikely images coalescing was harsh, and the repercussions can be daunting and haunting.
We never stop to think about the persistence of plastic after use. It’s made for durability so it won’t degrade in our lifetime. The only type of plastic that may decompose in this timeframe is the kind marked at “1.” But that is in ideal conditions and plastic cannot actually biodegrade. Instead, it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces. Despite being a durable product, 33% of it is used once and then discarded. (Plastic Pollution Coalition)
You’ve likely been taught that recycling is the solution to the plastics problem. But recycling plastic is a “less bad” action. Plastic can only be recycled once and into a material that cannot be recycled again. In the U.S., only 8% of it makes it into the recycling stream. The rest ends up in landfills or becomes litter, and a small portion is incinerated. (Plastic Pollution Coalition). Not using plastic is the only environmentally positive thing to do.
Aside from its persistence in our ecosystem, plastic affects human health. Chemicals leached by plastics are in the blood and tissue of nearly all of us. Exposure to them is linked to cancers, birth defects, impaired immunity, endocrine disruption and other ailments. (Plastic Pollution Coalition)
These are only a couple of problems with plastics, affecting us and our future generations directly. But, as with most environmental issues, even if you know it’s a problem today and even if you can see how the problem will be worse in the future, it is difficult to undo your daily lifestyle to accommodate this information. It’s difficult because you grow accustomed to the way things are and finding the impetus to change is tough.
The good thing about the plastics issue is that it only involves tweaks to your day-to-day routines to get closer to a plastic (almost) free life. It’s hard to stop using a car when your life infrastructure is built around it but it’s not too difficult to replace plastic bags with reusable ones.
For this Earth Day, instead of making changes related to numerous environmental issues, let’s focus on just this one. Here are some habits to upgrade:
- Always refuse plastic bags. Keep reusable bags in your car, if you have one, and a few in a place in your home where you can easily grab them. If you’re only purchasing a couple things on-the-go, consider holding everything in your hands.
- Replace sandwich and larger, sealable bags with reuasable sandwich bags or containers.
- Don’t purchase single use plastic drink bottles. If you didn’t bring a refillable bottle of your own and are going to pass out from unexpected thirst, choose a drink in a can or glass bottle.
- Bring your own takeout containers or eschew take out/delivery. Homemade is better anyway!
- Always say “no straw” when eating out. If your teeth are sensitive to cold, ask for no ice too.
- Don’t use plastic wrap. Use a reusable container or cover with a plate.
- Be aware of food packaging at the grocery store. Try buying in bulk with reusable containers or choose products that are not in single-use plastic containers.
- Don’t buy products made of plastic if alternatives exist.
Start slow and set up systems that work well with your current habits and routines. New habits will soon seem like second nature.
Remember: Plastic is cheap but it’s still not worth it.