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Plastic is a part of all of our lives and in almost everything, we come into contact with on a daily basis. Each year over 300 million tons of plastic is produced and more than 8 million tons of plastic trash finds its way into the world’s oceans. The bulk of this pollution is made up of single-use items like bags and eating utensils. You may ask yourself, “Why is reducing plastic pollution important when we can just recycle it?”
Reducing plastic waste also reduces energy consumption
It requires a large amount of energy to produce plastics. The manufacturing of plastic products affects the environment through carbon emissions and other types of airborne pollution. 4% of the world’s petroleum is used for plastic production. Using less single-use plastic items can help reduce the amount of energy consumption used to produce plastic.
What is plastic doing to our health?
Fish and shellfish consume tiny plastic pieces, which accumulate when they are eaten by larger fish. Plastic itself is toxic, but it also absorbs lots of poisonous chemicals from the ocean. Many of these fish are caught and eaten by humans, along with the plastics and chemicals that they contain. Essentially, you are eating the plastic you put into the ocean. We still don't fully understand what consuming plastics can do to the body. However, plastics contain chemicals that are known to cause cancer, birth defects, immune system suppression, reproductive problems, and developmental problems in children.
WHAT'S SO BAD ABOUT PLASTIC BAGS?
Plastic bags are not biodegradable. They fly off thrash piles, garbage trucks, and landfills, and then clog storm water infrastructure, float down waterways, and spoil the landscape. If all goes well, they end up in proper landfills where they may take 1,000 years or more to break down into ever smaller particles that continue to pollute the soil and water.
Plastic bags also pose a serious danger to birds and marine mammals that often mistake them for food. Floating plastic bags regularly fool sea turtles into thinking they are one of their favorite prey, jellyfish. Thousands of animals die each year after swallowing or choking on discarded plastic bags. This mistaken identity issue is apparently a problem even for camels in the Middle East!
Plastic bags exposed to sunlight for long enough do undergo physical breakdown. Ultra-violet rays turn the plastic brittle, breaking it into ever smaller pieces. The small fragments then mix with soil, lake sediments, are picked up by streams, or end up contributing to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and other oceanic trash deposits.
Finally, producing plastic bags, transporting them to stores, and bringing the used ones to landfills and recycling facilities require millions of gallons of petroleum, a non-renewable resource which can arguably be better used for more beneficial activities like transportation or heating.
Here are a few more tips for ridding your life (and your community) of single-use plastics for good.
• Always pack a reusable bag when shopping.
• Cook more often, to reduce your use of plastic-heavy takeout containers.
• Buy in bulk. Avoid individually packaged goods, like snack packs.
• Though buying online sometimes has a lower carbon footprint than shopping
in a store.
• Avoid plastic wrap altogether by storing leftovers in reusable containers. Try reusable and compostable beeswax wrap for an easy and decorative option.
•Buy a metal or bamboo reusable straw. Pack it alongside reusable cutlery (like wood, bamboo, or metal chopsticks) for sustainable eating on the go.
•Talk to the owners of the restaurants you frequent. Ask if they have nonplastic alternatives to plastic straws, stirrers, or bags.
•Speak out in support of local plastic bans, whether by calling your local government representative, submitting an op-ed to your city’s newspaper, or simply starting conversations with neighbors.