By Megan Woolsey, Guest Contributor
I consider myself a crusader against humans’ addiction to plastic. I see pictures of beaches littered with trash and animals wrapped in plastic bags, and it makes me sick. I read story after story about dead whales with their bellies cut open, plastic pouring out. Our addiction to plastic is a relatively new phenomenon beginning in the 1900s. In 1950, America produced only 1.5 metric tons of plastic, a number that has exploded to 348 billion metric tons in 2017. Most plastics are used one time and thrown out.
In the past year, I have taken measures to reduce my plastic usage. My family uses beeswax to cover and store food. I religiously bring produce bags and totes into the grocery stores to avoid single-use plastics. I purchase things from companies who are environmentally responsible. I even created my own website to spread information about using less plastic and creating a more circular economy to keep our oceans clean.
I am also the mom to four children living in a very expensive city. I shop at Costco so I can buy in bulk and save money – groceries aren’t cheap these days, my friends. The other day I made a particularly big financial purge at Costco, emptying my bank account into the pockets of a large corporation, so I can feed my family. I got home and was unloading my loot when I realized – holy cow! – that I’d hit the mother-load of single-use plastic! Every single product I purchased was encased in a protective layer of hard plastic – some of it requiring the jaws of life to extract the tiny product from its plastic packaging.
A feeling of hypocrisy hit me in a massive way, like the 8 million pieces of plastic pollution that enters the oceans each year. How can we live an environmentally friendly life in a society that has an enormous reliance on plastic? Plastic is everywhere, and it’s not going away anytime soon until we as a human race decide to find alternative.
DROWNING IN PLASTIC
We are drowning in a sea of plastic, but it isn’t just our oceans paying the price of our plastic addiction. Microplastics are found in forests, in fish, in remote parts of Antarctica, and even floating in the air we breathe. An alarming statistic that’s circulating: if plastic production isn’t curbed, plastic pollution will outweigh fish pound for pound by 2050, according to The Washington Post. Plastics comprise up to 90% of floating marine debris, and only 1% of that plastic is on the surface – the rest is in the water and on the ocean floor.
WHY IS PLASTIC THE WORST?
Plastics do not biodegrade, but instead break down into small particles that are taking over our oceans and being ingested by most marine life. This means it enters our food chain through fish, sea birds, and other marine life. Plastic has even been found in the deepest point on earth; scientists recently named a fish “Eurythenes plasticus” – a small to medium-sized, shrimp-like crustacean found at the depth of 20,000 feet down in the ocean in the Mariana Trench. It received its name because of the plastic found inside of its body.
More than 267 marine species have been impacted worldwide by plastic pollution, including 86% of all sea turtle species, 44% of all seabird species and 43% of all marine mammal species, according to Clean Water Action. Marine animals are dying as a result of ingesting plastic, which causes starvation, suffocation, infection, drowning, and entanglement.
I don’t know about you, but I prefer to eat my fish without used plastic particles.
RECYCLING IS DYING
Americans used to be able to justify our massive use of plastics by filling our recycling bins. The plastics industry has spent millions of dollars to convince people and policymakers that we just need to recycle.
Even with years of “education” about recycling from the American Chemical Council (ACC) and other lobbyist groups, Americans are still doing a lackluster job recycling. It is estimated that only 9% of our household used plastic has actually been recycled, leaving a whopping 91% of all plastic left to go to landfills or end up in our waterways.
An analysis of US export records shows that the equivalent of 19,000 shipping containers of plastic recycling that were once exported abroad to be recycled each month is now stranded in America. This is enough plastic to fill 250 Olympic swimming pools each month.
WHAT THE HEMP SHOULD WE DO?
Break Free from Plastic, an organization focusing on the prevention of plastic pollution, recently named the top 10 plastic-polluting corporations in the world. Based on 484 beach cleanups on six continents in 2019, Break Free from Plastics determined the top 10 polluters to be: Coca-Cola, Pepsi-Co, Nestle, Mondelēz International, Unilever, Mars, P&G, Colgate-Palmolive, Phillip Morris, and Perfetti Van Melle.
To curb our plastic use, we must force large corporations to change their reliance on plastic products and packaging and come up with compostable alternatives. For example, packaging can be made out of all natural, compostable mushroom roots. Clothing can be made from hemp and bamboo – both of which are very environmentally friendly.
WHAT WE CAN DO
As individuals, we can take steps to encourage a circular economy instead of a linear one. A circular economy is the concept that we must begin to design products and materials made to be sustainable and reusable with an end goal to design out waste and pollution.
Here are five simple ways you can contribute to a circular economy starting right now!
1. BUY ITEMS THAT ARE HOUSED IN CONTAINERS THAT CAN BE REUSED.
Buying items in glass containers instead of plastic ones is so much more environmentally friendly – and with the added bonus of looking super chic. For example, buy bath products in glass containers and then take them to refill stations that are popping up in cities all over America.
2. BUY USED CLOTHING FROM THRIFT STORES.
Really cool online thrift stores are selling your favorite brands at a fraction of the cost. Stores like ThredUp and Depop offer used clothing so we can reuse clothes and vamp up our closets, rather than support fast fashion that is worn for a few months and thrown away.
3. BRING YOUR OWN BAGS EVERYWHERE.
Keep reusable totes and produce bags in your car, in your purse, and in your house, so you never have to rely on using single-use plastics in the store. Plus, many cities have banned those plastic bags already, so it’s good to stay prepared!
4. SUPPORT COMPANIES WHO ARE REUSING EXISTING MATERIALS OR MANUFACTURING USING COMPOSTABLE MATERIALS.
Companies like Pela make phone cases out of compostable bioplastic and flax straw. And Rothy’s shoes and bags are made from upcycled plastics.
5. DONATE INSTEAD OF THROWING AWAY.
Momma always told me one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. Don’t throw away clothes, appliances, bikes, or anything of that nature because there are always people who are looking to take it off your hands for free.
As for me, I may be foregoing a few meals and movies out to save money so I can shop more farmers’ markets and local grocery stores where I can buy in bulk and use my cute produce and tote bags. Until companies start curbing their plastic production and use, we have a responsibility to our oceans and earth to make small changes. Even if you just do one thing on that list, you are making a great contribution. As my daughter says: let’s save the turtles!