Why We Need To Start Reducing Our Plastic Consumption

Why We Need To Start Reducing Our Plastic Consumption

Do we really want to leave behind one massive rubbish tip on planet Earth for our future generations to deal with? Truth is, there are parts of planet Earth that are already starting to look this way. If we don't bring a stop to our mindless plastic consumption, future generations will be adversely affected by our careless throw away attitude!

It has only taken us humans a few decades to dump tons upon tons of garbage into landfills, oceans and rivers. Plastic is the major contributor in our current rubbish epidemic, worsened by the fact that it takes thousands of years to breakdown.

“We have forgotten how to be good guests, how to walk lightly on the earth as its other creatures do.”—Barbara Ward

 

If we do not make a change in the very near future the rubbish that floats in our oceans will still be here in thousands of years to come and this rubbish is only on the increase. Currently in the ocean there are large islands of rubbish that are growing very quickly, each and every day.  

There have been 5 major areas of rubbish identified in our oceans. These Garbage patches that have been identified even have specific names. The largest garbage patch that has been identified is called The great pacific Garbage Patch or Pacific Trash vortex or gyre. This patch of rubbish stretches to a size of  Eastern Australia. That is QLD, NSW & Victoria put together.  View it in more detail here >>>

That is huge. Epidemically huge.

There are also patches in the Indian and Atlantic Ocean that are distressingly large.

In the most polluted places in the ocean, the mass of plastic that resides there exceeds the amount of plankton six times over. A scientific study done by the SES (Sea Education Society) have calculated that there are 580,000 pieces of plastic per square kilometre.

Did you know that for every second that passes there is a whopping 1500 un-biodegradable water bottles thrown into landfill and the ocean?.

If the bottles are thrown into landfill they will take over 1000 years to break down, and during those years they will leach toxins into the soil that eventually collect in rivers before flowing into our oceans.

For the bottles that get thrown into the ocean they float out with the water currents, and where these currents meet and converge, is the point where the garbage and plastic gets carried to, eventually accumulating into a big massive rubbish patch.

It is with these currents that a design breakthrough was announced on May 11th 2017 by the founder and CEO of The Ocean Cleanup, Boyan Slat. The Dutch foundation developed advanced technologies to rid the oceans of plastic. Allowing half of the great pacific garbage patch to be cleaned up in just 5 years. The main idea behind The Ocean Cleanup is to let the ocean currents do the work. U- shaped screens would allow the plastic to float to a central location to be extracted and shipped to shore for recycling. You can learn more here >>>

The increasing rate at which these rubbish patches are growing, requires that we must start taking pro-active action and looking into ways to change our consumption of plastic and disposal of waste, not only for our future generations but for the marine life whose life depends on clean oceans.  

The irreversible effects that plastic is having on our wild life, natural habitat and eco-systems is astounding. I knew it was bad however when I started looking into the issue more deeply, the photos of the impact was truly devastating. Marine life is most definately the greatest effected by our careless human "throw away"attitude,  however other living beings and organisms on the land are not getting out alive either.

The problem lies in the fact that plastics do not biodegrade, instead they break up into tiny pieces that are consumed by fish and sea mammals. Unfortunately, this plastic kills more than 100,000 sea turtles and birds a year from ingestion and entanglement. To get more of an understanding of the pollution in our ocean read my  blog post on Why we should care about water pollution

We have rare animals in our ocean that are at risk of becoming extinct because of plastics and rubbish. The Loggerhead sea turtle is endangered and is easily killed by eating plastic bags that they have mistaken for jelly fish.

There are only 1100 Hawaiian Monk Seals surviving at the moment and are known to suffocate when getting trapped in plastic bags. The Shearwater, a type of puffin bird mistakes plastics for food and feeds it to its chicks.  The Albatross also mistakes floating plastics as food, often consuming  plastic bags thinking it is squid.

As sad as all that is, the devastation and destruction runs far deeper than these animals, including the fish we eat, which are being overloaded with toxins when they ingest our human plastic waste.  The toxins from these plastics pose a threat to human health. The fish and seafood you eat carry these toxins that will then be passed on to you when you eat them. Learn more here >>>

Even before these plastics get to the ocean they could be potentially causing us harm. Plastics contain two main components that experts are concerned about:

  1. Bisphenon – A (BPA): A chemical added to make plastic clear and hard.
  2. Phthalates: A chemical added to make plastics soft and flexible.

Both these chemicals are said to mimic human hormones and are not for our human health. They are referred to as endocrine disrupters because of their ability to affect estrogen and testosterone levels.

When foods wrapped in plastic or microwaved in plastic containers, the BPA and phthalates may leak into our food, and this may affect your hormones and also potentially impact the development of the brain and reproductive organs in developing foetuses.

When using a microwave, place your food in glass or ceramic containers and replace housewares labelled “microwave safe” if they have been scratched or discoloured.

Buying fresh or frozen foods instead of canned food is highly recommended. BPA is present in the lining of most canned foods to help prevent corrosion and food contamination. Opt for dried beans instead of canned beans and choose fresh fruits over canned fruits, or better still grow your own… 

What can we do about all this plastic pollution?  The most common response I hear is to recycle. Recycling when you can, is, fantastic but unfortunately only a few types of plastics can be recycled. Leaving plenty more ending up in landfills, waterways and our ecosystems. The best way to control this pollution disaster is to stop buying plastic. 

Tips On How To Reduce Plastic

Stopping plastic is hard, especially when everything comes in plastic today. However, there are some really easy ways to cut plastic out to help our planet, our wildlife and our human health.

Bring your own shopping bag

Easy! Next time you’re at the supermarket buy some reusable shopping bags to use for that shop. Once you unpack the bags at home place them back in your car so they are there for your next shop.

Alternatively, if you are crafty you could make your own shopping bags out of old clothes, pillows, sheets and so forth. 

Somewhere between 5 billion and one trillion plastic bags are used each year. Easily ripped and generally only used once, many of these plastic bags end up in our oceans being consumed by marine life, ultimately ending in their death. Each time you refuse a plastic bag you could be saving a beautiful turtles life. Having reusable bags on you will take some time to adjust as you train yourself to get in the habit of keeping them in your car or hand-bag.

With a simple habit change you can make a huge impact by saving the life of our planet, the wildlife and your own human health. Just say no to plastic bags.

Stop buying bottled water

Plastic water bottles are an easy starting point for reducing waste. Instead, keep a refillable bottle handy. BPA’s from the plastic bottle can easily leach into your drinking water if warmed by the sun. So be sure to use BPA free water bottles and refill them.

Bring your own coffee cup

One of the reasons for the plastic epidemic is that we are over-run with busyness that we are always looking for the easy and quick option to get things done.  

Stop, slow down and take the time to breathe. Rather than grabbing your coffee on the run, sit down and enjoy it from a ceramic mug that will not harm anything it comes in contact with.

Your other option is to bring your own travel mug to the coffee shop and have them fill that instead of opting for the plastic or polystyrene foam cups. Often you will find cups looking like paper but they are lined with the polyethylene, which is a type of plastic resin.

And the plastic doesn't stop with your cup. Don't forget about the lids and stirrers that equally contribute to the plastic crisis.

Why not take the old-fashioned route that your grand-parents would have done, pack a thermos from home and find a lovely park or spot in nature to sit down and enjoy your brew. There truly is no better way to enjoy a cup of coffee!

You may find now a lot of vendors are using biodegradable products for their takeaway which is a fabulous option. Personally I will only eat take out if it comes in biodegradable containers otherwise I bring my own. Make a conscious choice to switch out the plastic and stick with it.

Choose cardboard over plastic bottles and bags

The bottom line with cardboard, it is biodegradable! So when put into landfill or if it makes its way to rivers, it will more than likely have decomposed before it will even reach the ocean. It is also much easier to recycle.

So, if you have the choice, choose a box for your groceries instead of a plastic bag, buy pasta in a box instead of plastic bag, choose detergent in a box over plastic bottles. There are always options that can reduce your environmental footprint and reduce the plastic.

Say no to straws

Straws are not friendly to our planet and our marine animal friends, with sea turtles often getting them stuck in their nose and wind-pipes. Buying metal or bamboo reusable straws is definitely the way to go. If you are out at a bar or restaurant, just ask for no straw or be eco savvy and keep a reusable straw in your bag.  Watch this video to get an idea of the devastation that plastic is causing.

Get the plastic off your face

Ever wondered what is actually in your face or body scrub. What are the little tiny beads that exfoliate your skin made of? You may also find these in your toothpaste. Whilst there are companies taking an eco approach by using  natural/biodegradable exfoliates, there are big portion of the market who don't care about the plastic epidemic and still continue to use plastic in their products - including exfoliating beads. Avoiding items that have “Polypropylene” or “Polyethylene” on the ingredient list will go a long way to helping our oceans and your skin. To learn more about how you can make ethical choices in non-plastic beauty products read my article over at Botanical Trader blog - Are cosmetics bad for the environment?

Skip the disposable razor

You may only use a disposable razor once a month or even less, however think about the total population and how many of them are doing the same per month. That can add up to a lot of plastic razors.

Razors are on this list because obviously are plastic, however they are also very difficult to recycle due to all the different materials used to make a disposable razor.

Switch to either waxing with bamboo strips or a razor that allows you to just replace the blade to reduce your plastic impact.

Switch from disposable diapers to cloth

Anyone who is a parent knows how busy life can get with little babies. So often we take the easy option of disposable nappies. There are alternatives to the ongoing throw away options. Cloth nappies are available in really easy to use designs now that are a great alternative. If you are  just to busy to commit to cloth nappies, then take it gradually by only using cloth nappies on the weekends when you have a little more time.  

Re-think your food storage

There are wonderful reusable wax wraps that are perfect for covering left over foods and wrapping open food items. These eco wax wraps can eliminate plastic glad wrap altogether.

If you need to cover something in the microwave place a plate over the top instead of glad wrap. This also helps to eliminate the leaching of PPA’s into your food. Instead of plastic zip lock bags, plastic wrap and one-time use plastic containers why not pack a bento box or a tiffin box. There are a lot of different options to suit whatever your needs are.

Use jars or glass containers to store foods in the fridge, this will save a lot of plastic bags and glad wrap being thrown out. When it comes to ordering take out at your local take away shop try to go somewhere that has biodegradable containers or bring your own container. Also look into biodegradable and compostable garbage bags - bio bag is one of our favourites. You can find these online and are now quite reasonable price wise.

Shop in bulk

In most cases, the kitchen is where you will find that most plastic waste is generated. Shopping in bulk is one of the best ways to help eliminate this. When buying fresh produce simply opt out of taking a plastic bag to put it in. It already has great packaging (The skin). Choose places where they do not wrap all their fresh produce in plastic. You can buy many other items in bulk as well. Taking paper bags to buy flour, seeds and rice work fantastically. Or bring your reusable containers or shop with you glass jars. Also places where you can refill old containers is a big win for our planet.

While you, as one person, might not feel that you can make a huge positive impact by ditching the plastic, your eco choices combined with other peoples eco choices all adds us, and it is this collective shift in attitude that will be ultimately what changes the planet for the better.

The future well-being of the planet, our health and the animals comes down to consumers making it a priority to reduce waste and consume mindfully.

When shopping for products, get into the habit of asking yourself, “What’s the environmental impact of this product [from its conception, design, manufacturing to it's disposal]?” along with reconsidering whether you truly need it. 

Eco living should no longer be considered a luxury but a necessity. We keep making more and more things from plastic, which is a nonrenewable fossil fuel-derived material, and then we keep using these things once and throwing them in a landfill. This toxic attitude is ludicrous and quite frankly, outdated. 

As a society we can do better. We have put men on the moon and built objects that fly - making the effort to reduce plastic is an easy project that everyone can do.  

Inspired to kick the plastic consumption to the curb? Have a look at Zero Waste living for a little inspiration.

 

“When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bonds: Your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction, and you find yourself in a new, great and wonderful world.

Dormant forces, faculties and talents become alive, and you discover yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamed yourself to be.”

― Patanjali