Living in a Plastic World - How One Person Can Make a Difference
2019-07-23 | 10 min read
We live in the dawn of the plastic age. It seems almost impossible to go even a day without using some type of disposable plastic whether it’s the plastic cup your iced coffee is in, the disposable fork you used at lunch or the plastic bag in your refrigerator that holds your broccoli. People are using and throwing away plastic at insurmountable rates. The Earth Day Network stated that at least one trillion single-use plastic bags are used every year, that is 2 million plastic bags every minute. Last year, a 2015 video resurfaced of a marine biologist removing a plastic straw from the nose of a sea turtle. This video highlighted the sad consequence of mindlessly using and throwing away plastic products where they could end up in global waterways.
These stark figures and events have sparked the beginning of a movement against single-use plastic products, such as plastic straws, cups, utensils, and bags. Recognizing one’s personal use of single-use plastic products can help limit the pollution in our waterways as well as the environmental impact of manufacturing these products. In this blog post I mention a few ways that I have tried to make a difference that you can make too!
The Deal with Plastic
So what’s the big deal with plastic straws and other plastic products? Plastic is one of the most harmful materials for the environment. Greentumble has noted that to make most plastic products it starts with fossil fuels and the extraction and refinement of these chemicals and compounds into plastic materials. What’s the consequence of this process? Well, according to The Story of Stuff Project, fossil fuels used in the production of plastic emit different pollutants into the air which can harm the health of the plant’s surrounding homes and ecosystem. Also, plastics do not biodegrade and the slow breakdown of these products could take millions of years. Forbes highlighted an example of this in a recent article about an incident in 1992- whereby a shipping container was lost at sea carrying over 28,000 rubber ducks. Nearly 27 years later people are still finding these ducks on seashores all over the world. This example demonstrates the staying power of plastic in our environment and where it often ends up in the ocean.
According to Forbes, there are an estimated 270,000 tons of plastic floating in the ocean, affecting over 700 different marine species. The world’s largest ocean plastic accumulation zone has been found between California and Hawaii which has been labeled the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It is estimated this garbage patch is about 1.6 million square kilometers--for reference, that’s about double the size of Texas. Most of the garbage in this zone is plastic, with about 1.8 trillion pieces of it in the garbage patch and that number is only growing. Such islands of plastic are extremely dangerous to marine wildlife which often mistake the plastic pieces for food or get trapped in it and eventually die. That brings us back to the video in 2015 of the sea turtle getting a plastic straw removed from its nose.
What’s Being Done About Plastic
While the use of plastic continues to grow, the tides are slowly turning to bring more attention to how people use plastic in their everyday lives. Companies have begun banning the use of plastic straws and other plastic products. In 2018, Starbucks announced its plan on eliminating plastic straws by 2020. American Airlines, Marriott Hotels, Disney and more are all beginning the transition away from plastic straws. It goes beyond just companies too. Cities like Seattle and states like California are also leading the way in banning plastic straws as well.
Keysight is also making efforts to curb its plastic use. In the Colorado Springs site, we recently switched from plastic coffee stirrers to wooden ones which are easily recyclable and more environmentally friendly. Keysight’s Penang, Malaysia office launched a campaign to reduce single-use plastics in the workplace which they believe reduced an estimated 8,000 straws a month.
These changes are only the beginning. There are a number of other obstacles and challenges that need to be overcome to make a real change. Facing this plastic challenge seems impossible for one person to do, but it is a lot simpler than it may first appear. Here are some tips so that you can also make the change to not only save the sea turtles but live a more sustainable, responsible life.
Eliminating plastic from your life does not start in a day, after all, this problem has been accumulating over the last century and our dependence on plastic runs deep. Here are a few steps I’ve begun taking:
Switch from plastic to reusable straws or simply don’t use them. Instead consider reusable options such as stainless steel, silicone, bamboo, paper. One of my favorites is a simple contractible stainless steel straw, that can be taken on the go. So next time you’re at Starbucks instead of picking up that plastic straw simply use your own.
Use paper or reusable grocery bags. Paper is much more biodegradable and recyclable than plastic bags. The best option is bringing your own grocery bags from home. Buy some bags in bulk and store them in your car so you won’t forget them at home and then throw them back in your car after you unload the groceries. Certain cities, such as Seattle, San Francisco, and Washington DC are even beginning to ban disposable shopping bags. You often also have fewer bags to carry since most reusable bags can hold many more groceries than multiple plastic bags.
Stop purchasing products that have microbeads or microplastics. We are all tempted by the marketing of these products that promote the exfoliating effects of these microbeads. But have you ever thought of where these beads go after you wash them off your face and down the drain? That’s right into the ocean where they accumulate for animals to consume. This step is extremely simple, look for products that don’t have these microbeads or microplastics. With all the options we have in shops for beauty and skincare products it is as easy as looking a little to your left, right, up or down and picking a different product.
It’s these simple changes that can go a long way in terms of making this transition to a more plastic-free lifestyle.
Want to go to the next level?
Transitioning your other plastic products to reusable or biodegradable options is a comprehensive way to get rid of plastic. These steps are all about looking into your life and consumption habits, identifying where you are using plastic, and making that transition away from that practice.
Invest in silicone or other reusable snack and storage bags
Bring your own reusable utensils or don’t take the plastic silverware when you get take out.
Bring your own cup or thermos to coffee shops or other restaurants often you can get a discount for doing this too.
Use a reusable water bottle and fill it up throughout the day instead of plastic water bottles.
Buy your food in bulk storing them in reusable mason jars, glass containers, or mesh produce bags.
Reducing the pollution of plastic in the oceans and throughout the world does not start with government laws and large companies. This change starts with people making small changes in their everyday lives and putting pressure on companies to such changes as well.
Beyond reducing the amount of plastic we use in our lives, for the plastic that is being used it is important to recycle it properly and, where appropriate, reuse it.
It is only a matter of time before plastic is not the first choice for consumers. You can make that change right now!