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The Plastic Trash Epidemic

Written by: Sara Coulter |

Plastic trash is becoming a significant environmental problem.  Here's what you can do to help.

Last week, I watched a TV show about the problem with trash, specifically plastics, in our oceans (see below for the link to this story).  Of course, I’d heard about this problem, but I didn’t realize until then the effect that plastic trash is having on the environment, especially the wildlife.

CBS 60 Minutes:  The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

So, I decided to research ways that I, one person, could reduce my “plastic  footprint”.  I’d like to share with you what I found and invite you to join along.


Just the plastic facts, Ma’am…

  • Fact: 90% of the trash floating in our oceans is made of plastic, around 46,000 pieces per square mile.
  • Fact: It would take 450 years for a plastic bottle to decompose;  1,000 years for a shopping bag.
  • Fact: 1 million plastic bottles are purchased, and 2 million plastic bags are used EVERY MINUTE.
  • Fact: Americans use 500 million plastic straws every day.  That’s enough to circle the earth twice.


tortoise under water eating a trash bag


It’s a sad story…

The biggest area where plastic trash is damaging our environment is wildlife, especially those that either live in or get their food/nourishment from oceans and rivers.  Many animals that live in the ocean become entangled in plastic fishing nets, shopping bags, and other containers.  Unable to free themselves, they end up dying.

Because most plastics float, animals often confuse plastic trash with food.  Fish eat plastic, because it smells like food once it’s covered in algae.  Seabirds mistake floating bags as squid, and ingest the entire bag, along with bottle caps, and other common refuse.  Not only can a sharp piece of plastic cause internal damage to the animal, the plastics replace nourishment.  The animals become desperate for more food, and they die of malnutrition.


What can I do?

Not sure where to start?  Here are 5 things that you can do today to cut down on your use of plastic and start to make a difference.


fabric shopping bag full of fruit


1. Reusable shopping bags

Most grocery and big-box stores have fabric shopping bags for sale for a couple dollars each, and you can often find organizations giving them away at events.


colorful reusable waterbottles lined up on a shelf


2. Reusable water bottle

Reusable water bottles come in all shapes, sizes, materials and price points.  You can find them anywhere from the smallest gift shop to the largest superstore.  They also make great gift items, and you can encourage the recipients to begin their journey to reduce their plastic use.

Don’t forget your bottle when you travel.  If you’re flying, empty the contents until after security.  And most airports have special water bottle fountains so you can fill up before you get on the plane.

One of my favorites.

These are beautiful!


a Starbucks reusable plastic coffee cup


3. Reusable coffee cup

Even if you only visit your local coffee shop once in a while, it still adds up.  And even paper cups can have a plastic coating on the inside.  Starbucks sell a reusable cup for $2, and they’ll give you a discount on your coffee whenever you bring in your own cup, mug or tumbler.

So take your favorite travel mug into the café or quick-stop shop and fill ‘er up!


a stainless steel sticking up from the middle of a bunch of plastic straws


4. Say “NO” to plastic straws

I know, I’m guilty of thinking that I always need a straw.  But by changing our mindset, we could make a huge impact on the amount of plastic trash we generate.

If you just don’t think you can do it, here are a few options:

Paper straws.  Many of you may still remember paper straws, and the handy little accordion section in the middle that lets you bend them to get a better angle on your drink.  They still make them!

Reusable straws.  Available in glass or stainless steel, some of them come in fancy bags with a tiny brush for cleaning!  Here’s an example.

Another great gift idea


mason jars full of layered vegetables


5. Glass jars

I can remember the days when I had Tupperware and Glad containers stacked everywhere.  There never seemed to be a cabinet big enough.  About a year ago, I switched to glass, and it was super easy.

I started with spaghetti sauce jars.  I was already using them in my art practice, so I decided to run them through the dishwasher and use them for leftovers.

Then I started buying glass storage bowls with lids that seal and can go into the microwave.  They are moderately priced and come in different sizes.

My favorite glass bowl set.

If you have glass containers with no lids, set a plate on top of the bowl to create a seal.


Just Be Aware

Finally, the key is to be aware whenever as you go about your day.  Keep your shopping bags in your car to get into the habit of using them.  When grocery shopping, choose boxes over plastic bags or bottles.  Avoid plastic produce bags.  One person can make a difference!




Topics: Health, Personal

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