Plastic pollution is a growing global problem. It is estimated that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the sea than fish. Microplastics, tiny pieces of plastic pollution less than 5 mm in size, are particularly harmful to marine life as they are often ingested, disrupting the animals’ digestive systems. In addition to harming marine life, plastic pollution also has major implications for human health and the environment as a whole.
In a recent study commissioned by the WHO, it was revealed that the average Brit consumes the equivalent of a credit card per week in terms of microplastics. We’re not just digesting plastic pollution, we’re also breathing it in. A recent blood survey carried out in the Netherlands revealed that 80% of the samples had plastic particles. We’re also still in the midst of an unfinished pandemic, which as we all know, has placed a mask over the entire world. Unfortunately, the majority of masks that get used are made of single-use plastics, resulting in 129 billion entering our oceans and landfills on a monthly basis, which in turn translates into 3 million masks every minute!
The ubiquitous nature of plastic pollution poses a serious threat to the health of the planet and to the health of its people. As the world becomes more and more environmentally conscious, the negative impacts of single-use plastics are becoming more apparent. These plastics, which are designed for just one use and then thrown away, are clogging our oceans, littering our landscapes, and take centuries to decompose. As a species, we don’t have centuries to fix this massive threat. Immediate action is required. Here are 6 things that you can do to break the cycle of single-use plastics.
1. Buy a reusable face mask
The whole world is now fully acquainted with the face mask. What it needs to do now is become acquainted with the reusable face mask. Masks have become somewhat of a double-edged sword, protecting our immune systems from the onslaught of airborne viruses and at the same time killing the planet because of their single-use design features. It doesn’t have to be this way. Face masks like the Cambridge Mask PRO are reusable, washable, and can last for up to 6 months. Just one PRO mask replaces a total of 170 single-use masks and prevents 4 kg’s of plastic waste, which means that if you buy just one, you stop all that plastic from affecting our oceans, marine life, and from ending up in landfills.
2. The last straw
If there’s one piece of single-use plastic that should have gone the way of the dodo a long time ago, it’s single-use plastic straws. In the US alone, around 390 million straws get used on a daily basis, a lot of which ends up in our oceans. Scientists estimate that roughly 8 billion plastic straws are littering our shorelines, and this excludes the ones that are in the ocean and harming the marine life. Metal and paper straws make for much better alternatives, although simply refusing to use a plastic straw is the best option. Nowadays you can also get pasta straws, which you can eat after having consumed your beverage.
3. Shop with a reusable bag
The best way to reinforce this good habit is to always carry a reusable bag with you. Keep it on your person or keep it in the boot of our car – just make sure it’s with you when you leave the house to run your shopping errands. With just one reusable bag, you can reduce your plastic usage by over 300 bags annually. Globally we use between 500 billion and 1 trillion bags per year with only 1 in every 200 getting recycled. Instead, billions are relegated to litter that endures for hundreds of years. Each year 100,000 marine animals are killed by plastic bags. We can drastically reduce these numbers if we all start switching to reusable bags.
4. Bring your own leftovers container and compost your food
We all love dining out. No dishes to wash, no electricity to use, you get waited on, it really is one of best pastimes out there. Very often we also end up taking our leftovers home and that means requesting a doggy bag, which all too often is made of styrofoam. By taking along our own containers for our leftover food, we can stop loads of styrofoam from entering our landfills and oceans. Speaking of food, a lot of the food we throw away can be composted instead, thus saving space in landfills. By composting your food waste, you’ll save money, valuable resources, and improve your soil quality, which means more nutrients for your plants. Paper, cardboard, and all kinds of food scraps can be composted, and this translates into less waste to landfill and less use of trash bags, of which 300 million were used in the US alone in 2018.
5. Beat the habit – stop smoking
Cigarettes are guilty of multiple offences. Not only do they kill 8 million people annually, but they also contribute significantly to the pollution of our oceans. They might seem small, but cigarette filters are made from plastic (cellulose acetate), which can take anywhere between 18 months and 10 years to decompose. They’re also packaged in paperboard, foil, and plastic, and billions are sold every day. Cigarettes also encourage the production and purchasing of plastic lighters, which account for one of the most commonly found pieces of trash in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an island of trash that’s three times as big as France.
6. Adopt a circular lifestyle
Adopt the ideology and practices of ‘circularity,’ which promotes the idea that products and the materials from which they are composed should be reused and not chucked away. Choose products that are both sustainable and ocean-friendly, such as reusable food packaging, water bottles, and coffee mugs. Other similar options would include solid shampoos, bamboo toothbrushes, and reusable menstrual products and nappies. Not only will you ultimately save money, but you’ll also do your bit to saving the planet. Studies indicate that just under 9% of the world is circular. It’s not the best of news, but it also means there’s massive room for implementation and improvement.
The world faces an uphill battle in the fight to eradicate single-use plastic. Plastic has become as embedded in our lives as it has within the soil and oceans of the earth. When we stop using disposable plastic altogether, we’ll see a drastic change in the health of our environment. Plastic’s sheer convenience along with the municipal services and associated means of disposing of it means that many of us are blinded to its impact on the planet. If we’re going to see a vast reduction in plastic, then we must make a collective effort to put the abovementioned steps in to use and we must put circularity front and centre in our social and economic systems. That way we will all be able to see the value of plastic.