We have all been there.
Seeing the litter on the side of the road, an overfilled garbage can that needs to be emptied on the beach or worse; trash bobbing in the ocean, just waiting for an unsuspecting dolphin to think that it is a jellyfish and end up choking on it.
Before I dive in, let me start off with a quick story that made me realize the importance of recycling and how damaging plastic pollution can be for animals and the environment.
Home Science Project
When I was ten years old, my mother wanted to teach me why recycling and only using what I needed was important.
We did a little home science project.
We took an apple, a newspaper and a plastic milk carton and dug a hole in the ground in our yard to see how long it would take to decompose. We covered it up and checked on it every so often and noted observations we made.
We checked on it for a couple of weeks and then the project wore off.
Now, about 20 years later, I was talking to my mom over a cup of coffee one day and that experiment came up in conversation.
Out of curiosity we went over to the famous “decompose spot” and did a little digging.
I am sure you can guess what I am about to tell you.
After 20 years, two decades, that plastic milk carton looked exactly the same as it had the day we bought it.
It had not decomposed at all!
This left us completely stunned and turned to some research.
Turns out, it takes about 1,000 years for a plastic carton to decay.
So in other words, my great-great-great grandchildren will probably be able to see that same exact milk container that I drank out of when I was a child.
What really happens to the plastic you throw away
One milk carton isn’t a big deal, but when you magnify that to a worldwide epidemic, the numbers and results are staggering.
Plastic pollution has turned into a real world-wide problem resulting in oceans becoming polluted and fish and wildlife filling their bellies with trash.
This could leave us with no fish to eat- one of the largest food sources for many countries.
Oceans that are turning into swamps of plastic sewage are only going to get worse if we as a global economy don’t change something.
Great Pacific garbage patch is now three times the size of France!
Look at some plastic pollution facts:
How does plastic get into the ocean?
Now you may be thinking, but I don’t leave trash in the ocean. How does it get there?
The answer is simple.
When trash is left outside on the ground, it will eventually make its way to a storm drain where it can get washed away and eventually sent through streams and rivers to make its way out to the ocean.
Suddenly, that soda can ring or plastic bag that everyone watched blow around but nobody picked up is now floating in the middle of the ocean waiting for some turtle to swim through it and get trapped.
It’s not only ocean life that is affected by the piles of plastic pollution. It is on land as well.
Let me give you an example.
You are at a national park drinking from a water bottle and eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Your bag blows away and is never seen again.
Until a squirrel comes across it and walks into it, unable to backup and now he is trapped.
With the use of a reusable container to keep in your bag, these situations can dramatically decrease.
Great Pacific garbage patch is now three times the size of France!
How can you help?
With the world becoming increasingly smaller with the use of the internet and social media there seems to be an influx of information constantly coming in and going out.
This can be looked upon as a benefit for plastic pollution awareness. It is easier to share the effects of how damaging an over-abundance of plastic can be.
There are tons of ways that you can help support your community to decrease the amount of plastic left as litter.
First and foremost, if you see a bag or an item of garbage floating its way down the street, pick it up. Put it in a local recycling bin.
A time when most people are guilty of littering is on vacation. People are out of their element, relaxed having a good time and as a result pieces of trash are more likely to be forgotten.
When it comes to traveling, be mindful of what you leave behind.
Cleanup after yourself at the beach.
Pack jewelry or small objects in reusable containers that you can take home with you.
Or pack snacks for road trips or long flights so you are not subjected to fast food packaged in plastic that is basically impossible for the environment to breakdown and ultimately doesn’t taste that great either.
What is being done to decrease plastic pollution?
With the awareness that people are starting to realize when it comes to plastic pollution, lots of people are starting to make some changes.
Even a few little changes can help make a big impact.
Cities are pulling together to find ways to clean up their areas. Whether it is by providing more recycle stations around heavily populated areas, cleaning rivers and local bodies of water or providing free education to residents about the importance of recycling and conservation.
Kids take action against ocean plastic:
Every bit of effort is a help towards decreasing waste.
There are ways that you can help.
Check out a few plastic pollution solutions below to help cut down your daily plastic usage.
Ways to reduce plastic pollution when traveling
1. Stop buying bottles of water
Buying bottles of water is such a waste; for your wallet and the environment.
I am guilty too. When I was younger, have bought whole packages of water bottles because “it tastes better”.
Now, I shudder at the thought for a few reasons.
Aside from the fact that it takes a single water bottle over 1,000 years to decompose and scientists say that by 2050 there could be more plastic pollution in the ocean than fish; bottled water is less regulated and less pure than standard water that comes out of the tap.
Bottled water is also incredibly expensive if you actually think about what you’re buying.
Water is often given away in public water fountains and at restaurants. So the idea of buying water for a few dollars each can seem a bit excessive.
To continue drinking purified water but cut back on your plastic usage, you could try purchasing a reusable bottle. This is a great bottle because you are able to drink from any water source and it purifies and makes the water taste delicious.
2. Pack in glass containers
Instead of packing your lunch in a plastic bag or disposable plastic containers, switch it to a nice quality glass dish.
This is beneficial for you and the environment: when heating leftover food in a plastic container, you are also subjecting your body to harmful chemicals that are released.
Glass containers may initially cost a little bit more, but in the long run they will far outlast their plastic counterpart.
3. Buy food in bulk
Boxes of individually wrapped nuts, cookies and other treats are usually far more expensive when bought individually than in bulk and typically uses a lot more plastic to contain the products.
Rather buy a large bag of pretzels, nuts or chips. You can dish out the amount that you need in a reusable container with basically no extra effort.
4. Bring your own grocery bags to the store
In most parts nowadays, reusable burlap shopping bags have become very popular. This is to help cut down on plastic pollution by reusing more durable shopping bags rather than those flimsy plastic ones.
A staggering fact is that studies have been done and an estimate that over two million plastic bags are used per minute and take about 500- 600 years for it to decompose.
I know this may seem like an obvious solution to most but recycling is not common in every country. So it is up to those of us who do know the importance to practice and teach others how and why to recycle.
6. Skip the drinking straws.
Sounds a bit silly but think about it. Most all straws are made out of plastic.
In the United States almost every beverage is served in a restaurant with a straw. If we cut back only our straw usage, this could leave a huge positive impact when it came to the world plastic pollution dilemma.
So in short, there has rapidly been an increase in plastic pollution in the last couple of decades but thankfully people are starting to take notice and create solutions to help cut back on plastic pollution.
From small lifestyle changes to cities and countries implementing plans to help lessen the burden on the environment leaves me to wonder, could there ever be a day where the traditional plastic will be obsolete and a newer, more ecofriendly plastic be created that is easier for the Earth to breakdown?
What do you think?
Are you willing to try one of the above suggestions to reduce your plastic usage?
Or do you have any other ideas on solving the plastic pollution predicament?
Let me know, I’d love to hear your ideas in the comment section below.