World Oceans Day: Addressing the Plastics Problem
On June 8, the Ocean Project recognizes World Oceans Day and challenges everyone to honor and help protect our world’s shared ocean. This year’s theme is an important one: preventing plastic pollution.
We all know that plastic is bad for the ocean. But just how bad is it?
Plastics break down into particles that persist in the ocean, taking years to decompose and releasing harmful toxins into the food chain, contaminating the fish we eat. Here’s the scary part: At this point, scientists don’t know exactly what eating contaminated fish does to the human body.
Roughly 300 million tons of plastic are produced per year, most of them single-use plastics such as straws, bottles, plastic bags and food containers. Only about 9 percent of this is recycled while 800 million tons are dumped in the ocean every year. Scientists project that by the year 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in our waters.
Some more alarming statistics: The amount of plastic produced between 2000 and 2010 exceeds the amount produced in the entire last century. There’s literally a ton of plastic garbage now for every person in the world.
Between 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags are used per year worldwide. In the United States alone, 155 billion plastic checkout bags are used per year, an average of 500 plastic bags per person per year. Most of these end up in landfills or as litter. The state of California spends $25 million a year to send plastic bags to landfills while public agencies spend $300 million a year on clean-ups.
So what can we do to be part of the solution? Many of the following ideas are quite easy to implement; others will take a bit of getting used to or may even require you to be an advocate for change. But every little thing we do can add up to make a difference.
- Cut out plastic straws. If you must use a straw, use stainless steel or cardboard ones instead. Encourage businesses you frequent to ban plastic straws if they haven’t already.
- Bring reusable carrier bags with you instead of relying on plastic ones. Get into the habit of using them so that it’s second nature.
- Rethink your food storage. Pack meals in reusable containers and choose reusable food wraps such as LilyBee, made from beeswax. Use jars or glass containers in the fridge.
- Invest in reusable bottles for drinks instead of using plastic bottles or takeaway cups. Bring a mug or thermos to your coffee shop and to work.
- Consider bringing your own cutlery. Encourage your workplace to provide dishes rather than disposable plates and cutlery if it is not already doing so.
- Stop chewing gum. It’s made of synthetic rubber, which is a type of plastic.
- Stop smoking. You should anyway! Cigarette butts, one of the most common forms of plastic litter, contain a filter made of cellulose acetate. If you must smoke, try rolling your own using a homemade cardboard filter.
- Skip the disposable razor. Instead of throwing a plastic razor away every month, consider switching to a razor with a replaceable blade or even a straight razor.
- Switch from disposable to cloth diapers. While they are less convenient, they will save you money—about $1,000 a year—and are actually better for baby’s sensitive skin.
- Dine in. Takeout food causes needless amounts of waste. Shouldn’t meals be given the time to be savored? Of course, most fast food restaurants won’t be offering nondisposable plates and cutlery, but eating there less often—or even not at all—certainly wouldn’t be a bad thing.