With all eyes on Rio during these summer Olympics, it’s difficult to ignore the shocking images of debris clogging the city’s bay. While our own bays may not be overwhelmed with trash, that doesn’t mean that it’s not there. Marine debris, particularly of the plastic variety, is a problem in the Inland Bays.
This past June, I joined a crew of over 60 volunteers to pick up trash along the Bays as a proud participant in the 12th Annual Inland Bays Clean Up! Most of what I picked up that day was plastic: Plastic bottles. Plastic beach toys. Plastic bags (some fresh, some shredding into a thousand pieces).
The amount of plastic that we humans are generating is overwhelming. In 2014, global plastic production was at 311 million metric tons (685 billion pounds) in 2014, up from 1.7 million metric tons (3.7 billion pounds) in 1950. 1
Much of this waste is in the form of single-use disposable items. Can you remember when disposable plastic water bottles weren’t a ‘thing?’ Now they are at almost every big gathering of people, whether tap water is readily available or not. In 2015, the average American drank a total of 21 gallons of bottled water. Consumption of plastic water bottles continues to grow between 5 and 7% each year.2
Unfortunately, the United States only recycles about 1/3 of its waste — so yes, much of this discarded plastic is not only winding up in our local landfills, but it’s also finding its way into our waterways.3
Plastic pollution is of particular concern because plastics are non-biodegradeable. Instead of breaking down into their base components, they simply break apart into tiny pieces, which can work their way into the food chain (and even into our bodies). Almost 90% of the plastic in the ocean is this type of ‘microplastic.’ If we don’t kick our plastic habit soon, there could be more plastic than fish in the oceans within 35 years.
So maybe it’s time to stop and think:
Do I really need the “convenience” of bottled water?
Buy it, use it, throw it out. Buy it, use it, throw it out?
I can tell you from experience, switching to reusables is no simple task. Like any other is a good habit, it takes some effort. First there’s the discomfort of something new: You may feel odd being the only one with reusable bags at the grocery store. Then there is the monumental task of simply remembering: It can be difficult to remember to bring a reusable mug or water bottle when leaving home. But in my experience, after a few months, change is possible. Now I never (okay, rarely) forget, and like most good habits, I don’t even need to think about it.
Personally, the best parts of switching to ‘reusables’ were intangible. I take pride in knowing how much junk I’m keeping out of landfills and waterways. I know I’m setting an example that speaks for itself. I’m letting people know that it’s okay to do things differently and to not accept wastefulness. And I’m showing the world that I care about clean water and healthy environment.
Five Tips for reducing your plastic use:
- Buy a few strong, reusable grocery bags and leave them in your trunk for that quick, unplanned trip to the store.
- Invest in a nice, colorful reusable water bottle that you’ll want to use and show off day after day.
- Use glass straws! It may sound strange, but they work just as well and can be washed in the dishwasher with your regular load!
- Avoid cleansers with plastic microbeads that contain plastic beads (these will be federally banned in mid-2017).
- When getting takeout, request no plastic silverware with your order and use your own utensils!
1. “Plastics – the Facts 2015.” PlasticsEurope Association of Plastics Manufacturers. November 9, 2015.
2.”Press Release: Bottled Water Consumption More Than Doubles Since 2000, Cutting Trillions of Calories From American Diet.” Press Release: Bottled Water Consumption More Than Doubles Since 2000, Cutting Trillions of Calories From American Diet. June 7, 2016. http://www.beveragemarketing.com/news-detail.asp?id=391.
3. “Advancing Sustainable Materials Management: Facts and Figures.” EPA. August/September, 2016. https://www.epa.gov/smm/advancing-sustainable-materials-management-facts-and-figures.