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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!