What is Plastic Pollution?
Plastic pollution is arguably one of the most pressing challenges facing our generation. What was once considered the greatest invention of the modern world has quickly become the biggest threat to our planet.
Plastics first started to rise to prominence just after World War II. It’s hard to imagine our modern day world without the invention of plastics. They contributed to significant advances in technology, including life-saving medical devices and space travel. They also gave car and plane manufacturers the ability to reduce weight and improve efficiencies.
This all sounds great, right? Unfortunately, the use of plastic did not stop there. Soon everyday household products were being made from plastic — furniture, utensils, clothing accessories, baby bottles. Pretty much anything you could think of was being made from plastic.
Not to mention, the concept of recycling wasn’t considered until decades after the mass manufacturing of plastics. During those decades, plastic production and waste continued to rise. As a result, there are millions of tons of plastic waste floating around our marine environments and refusing to decompose in our landfills.
Today, over 300 million tons of plastic are produced every year. It’s estimated that every year, at least 8 million tons of that plastic ends up in our oceans. Not only does this pose a huge threat to marine life, it also has an impact on people.
How Plastic Pollution Impacts You
Although you might not realize it, we all face the impacts of plastic pollution every single day. It’s more than just a nuisance of seeing litter on the beach — it’s a threat to our health and wellbeing.
Plastics are Toxic to Humans
Plastics are made with all sorts of nasty chemicals that are harmful to our health — lead, cadmium, and mercury. They also contain well-known carcinogens like BPA and DEHP. Both of these chemicals are known to cause everything from cancer, immune system problems, hormonal deficiencies, and childhood developmental issues.
“But we’re not consuming plastic, right?” Wrong. Every single day, these dangerous toxins are entering your body through the water you drink, air you breathe, and the food you eat.
Since plastics never truly decompose, they break down into small pieces usually less than five millimeters in length (the size of a sesame seed.) These microplastics can be found everywhere, in the ocean and on land. Animals then ingest these microplastics, which cannot be broken down by their digestive system. Then, we eat those animals and ultimately, consume the microplastics.
In fact, it’s estimated that on average, people eat a credit card’s worth of plastic every single day. Not only do these microplastics leak toxins into our body, they also act as a spong, absorbing toxic chemicals around them.
The only way to reduce the presence of microplastics in our food is by reducing plastic pollution in its entirety. While it might seem like a tough task, there are easy ways to reduce plastic that we can all practice.
Keep reading to learn more about everyday plastic pollution solutions you can include in your everyday life.
6 Easy Ways to Reduce Plastic Pollution
The good news is it doesn’t take drastic lifestyle changes to reduce plastic pollution. Although there are options like that if you’d prefer, smaller changes also have a big impact in the fight to reduce plastic pollution.
The key is deciding which level of commitment you’re able or willing to make and then act accordingly. If you’re new to the world of sustainable living, diving head first into a zero-waste lifestyle might not be, well, sustainable. Choose a level of change that you feel is attainable for you.
Something as small as switching to a reusable water bottle can have a massive impact on plastic pollution. In fact, just by making that one small lifestyle change, you would be saving an average of 160 plastic bottles from entering our water sources each year. Now imagine the impact you could have throughout your lifetime if you took small actions like that everyday.
Here are six ways you can reduce plastic at home.
Steer Clear of Microbeads
You might be surprised to learn that microbeads are found in many of our household products. Even more surprisingly, these microbeads are often purposely added to the product by the manufacturers.
Beauty and hygiene products often use microbeads as exfoliants. Everything from body washes to toothpaste can contain microbeads.
These microbeads don’t break down, so after you use these products, they simply wash down the drain. The discarded microbeads then make their way downstream and find their way into our rivers and oceans, resulting in marine plastic pollution.
You don’t need to sacrifice your skincare routine. Instead, look for all-natural alternatives that use biodegradable or plant-based exfoliants. Not only are these products better for your body (less toxins), they’re better for our environment.
In order to avoid microplastics, be sure to read product labels before purchasing. If the label includes ingredients like nylon, polyvinyl, PVP, or ethylene, put it back on the shelf. Instead, look for the “Zero Plastic Inside” certification to ensure that brand is completely free of microplastics. You can find a comprehensive list of ingredients to avoid here.
Avoid Disposable Plastics
With the rising popularity of plastics in the mid-19th century, we soon created what is referred to as the “throw-away” culture.
With the post-war economy booming, households were spending more and more money on single-use plastic products. The biggest selling point being convenience. Referred to as the “disposable age”, the idea was that you could simply throw these items away rather than going through the hassle of cleaning or returning them. The result was a 300% increase in plastic production.
Today, almost half of all plastic produced falls into the category of “disposable plastics”. Disposable plastics include a variety of plastic products that are designed to be used only once then thrown away.
The use of disposable plastics can be seen in almost every part of our everyday lives — plastic cups, straws, bags, packaging. These single-use plastics are everywhere and they make up a majority of our plastic waste.
Reducing our use of disposables can make a massive impact on overall plastic pollution. The good news is that combating single-use plastics is as easy as making some simple swaps:
- Keep reusable bamboo cutlery with you or in your car for eating on the go.
- Keep a reusable straw on hand and say no to plastic straws.
- Buy foods in bulk to avoid individually wrapped snacks.
As you can see, it’s easy to find ways to reduce plastic in your everyday life. Try keeping track of which single-use plastic items you use throughout the day. Make a list on your phone and reflect on it at the end of your day. Commit to swapping out at least one of those items with a reusable or biodegradable alternative each month.
Ditch Plastic Single-Use Water Bottles
According to the United Nations, plastic water bottles are one of the most common single-use plastic products found in the environment. Even with modern day recycling systems, many of these plastic bottles do not get recycled properly. This results in a large amount of plastic bottles landing in our oceans and landfills.
Luckily, making the switch to a reusable water bottle is one of the easiest plastic waste solutions to incorporate into your lifestyle.
There is a HUGE variety of reusable water bottles now, so you’re sure to find something that fits your preferences. From different materials like glass and aluminum, to different styles like compact and insulated, you can find a water bottle that works best for you.
In the moments where you do need to get a single-use water bottle, make sure you remove the label and recycle it in a properly marked container.
Recycle, Recycle, Recycle!
It can be challenging to go 100% plastic-free in your lifestyle, especially when you’re just getting started. For the moments you do use plastic, recycling can supplement your plastic reduction efforts.
Recycling plays a key part in stopping ocean pollution. Recycled plastics can be turned into nearly anything — construction materials, household items, and even clothing! This reduces the demand for more plastic production while keeping dangerous plastics out of our oceans.
To start recycling in your home, research recycling options in your neighborhood. Many municipalities now offer recycling pick-up, making it easier than ever to recycle.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions! Research how your local recycling facility operates and what their throwaway percentage is. Take note of what types of plastics they recycle. Use this information to be sure that you recycle correctly.
Finally, prepare your recyclables appropriately. Be sure to wash out dirty containers, remove any labels, and separate plastics from other materials. Failing to do these steps, might result in the recycling facility discarding your items into a landfill.
Carry Reusable Shopping Bags
One of the best ways to prevent ocean pollution is by avoiding the use of single-use plastic bags. On average, we use over 5 trillion plastic bags each year. That breaks down to a yearly average of 700 plastic bags per person.
Plastic bags are some of the most harmful plastics in our marine environment, especially to ocean animals. Wildlife often mistake them for food and accidentally ingest them. Ocean animals are not able to digest plastic, causing these plastic bags to clog the intestines and lead to premature death.
Plastic bags that are not ingested by animals, break down into more microplastics as they’re buffeted by wind, water currents, and heat. Ultimately ending up in your food.
Reusable totes are an easy way to avoid the vicious plastic cycle. Opt for totes made from natural materials, like waxed canva, to avoid producing more microplastics as they age. Simply keep a few of these reusable bags in your car or backpack so you always have them on hand for your next shopping trip.
Join a Pollution Clean Up Crew
Another way to reduce plastic pollution is by joining a pollution clean up crew. Many communities now organize regular cleanup efforts to help contain the spread of plastic pollution.
If there’s not one in your area, we encourage you to organize a plastic pollution cleanup group effort yourself! Get a group of community members together once a month to clean up trash at your local beach, park, or river. We recommend having people pair into groups of two — one person to collect recyclables and one person to pick up trash. Once you’re done, be sure to recycle or dispose of it properly in order to keep it out of our oceans and waterways.
Remember: Little Decisions Make BIG Waves
While plastic pollution does pose a huge problem, even the smallest decisions can help beat plastic pollution. Making a difference doesn’t have to be hard or complicated. These simple steps make it easy for you to reduce your plastic waste and help control the plastic pollution crisis.
Here at Socktopus Ink, we’ve committed to making a difference by creating socks using recycled plastic fibers. We encourage you to make a commitment to change in your everyday life. Whether it’s switching to reusable water bottles or joining a clean-up crew, your actions can have a big impact in the fight against ocean plastic pollution.