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Plastic Pollution: What Is Our Fate And How to Use Less Plastic On Your Travels

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 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.

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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 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.

It 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 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 the numbers and results are staggering when you magnify that to a worldwide epidemic.

Plastic pollution has turned into a real worldwide 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 will only worsen 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?

Great question!

The answer is simple.

When the 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 drinking from a water bottle at a national park 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 back up, he is now 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 to 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.

plastic pollution in the ocean-001
Plastic pollution in the world’s oceans – Photo by Caroline Power

When it comes to traveling, be mindful of what you leave behind.

Clean up 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 break down 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, many 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 recycling 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 helpful 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 costly 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 can 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 released harmful chemicals.

Glass containers may initially cost a little bit more, but they will far outlast their plastic counterpart in the long run.

plastic ocean pollution
See the effects of plastic pollution in the ocean – Photo by Caroline Power

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 use 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, [easyazon_link keywords=”reusable burlap shopping bags” locale=”US” tag=”timkrotrarout-20″]reusable burlap shopping bags[/easyazon_link] 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 to decompose.

5. Recycle

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 know the importance of 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 have a hugely positive impact on the world plastic pollution dilemma.

ocean plastic pollution
See the dramatic effect of plastic on the environment – Photo by Caroline Power.

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, I wonder, could there ever be a day where the traditional plastic will be obsolete, and a newer, more eco-friendly 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.

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what is plastic pollution

Carol Alcantar

Thursday 3rd of May 2018

Recycling should not be a choice. In my opinion most things come down to respect. Some parents are not teaching respect . Their children (often descendent's of low income, uneducated minorities) are not respectful. They often are felons. They don't respect anything so they don't respect our planet. People want choices. Choices are not always good things (like the choice to abort babies). What these people need are less choices. What is right, what works, what helps the environment, the planet, that should be the only option. No choice to not recycle. Mandatory recycling is needed. They choose not to because they are lazy, they're selfish and they plain don't give a damn. Everyone suffers including all the wildlife, marine life and our one and only planet because they don't want to do anything extra. Doers and Takers. They will take it all away from all species because no one ever practiced tough love!