Have you ever heard about the Great Pacific plastic gyre? Ocean gyres are convergence zones where different currents and temperatures meet and mix. Often, they end up with a still zone in the center of the swirling mix. It’s a perfect place for junk to accumulate, which shines quite a spotlight on our waste. Plastics from the shore are being dumped into the ocean, where they break down into smaller and smaller pieces, but never fully break down. Instead, they turn into little micro-plastics that cloud up the water and settle on the ocean floor.
The problem here? Well, it’s having a big effect on marine life. The microplastics are crowding out plankton populations and blocking sunlight from phytoplankton, at the very base of the marine food chain. Birds, fish, and mammals are ingesting the plastics instead of plankton. The plastics wreck digestive systems, and fill up stomachs so that there’s no room for actual food until they die of starvation.
“Are you ready to
start reducing your
use of plastic?
I know all this is sobering, but I wanted to remind you about this problem because its origin is…us. It’s me, when I throw away my plastic toothbrush, when I grab a plastic to-go box for my salad, and when I leave my plastic bucket at the beach. We use plastic everywhere in our lives! We like it because it’s convenient and clean. We like it because it doesn’t break down or get soggy. However, it’s for exactly this reason that it creates such a problem for the environment. If you want to learn more about why recycling is so essential, you can read more here.
It can be frustrating how essential plastic is to our modern lives. Eliminating plastic entirely can seem like a project way beyond your wheelhouse. Luckily, though, it’s really easy to cut way back on plastic waste, and recycle the rest.
Here are some ways to get started on your plastic-reduction project:
Eliminate Plastic Bags
As simple as this one seems, it can be harder in practice than you think it’ll be. You might have a few reuseable grocery bags hanging around, but somehow at the checkout line, you always have that “crap! I left it behind!” moment.
Here are some tips to help you remember:
- Keep a couple always in your car and just go back for them when you forget, even if it’s inconvenient and you have to leave your grocery cart behind.
- Shop at reusable-bag-friendly stores. Most places will give you credits or discounts for bringing your own bags, but it’s not always the case. I personally like to shop at Winco because you bag the groceries yourself, so I never miss my moment, forgetting until the bagger has already stocked me up with plastics.
- Keep your veggie bags in your grocery bag. Mesh bags with drawstring closures are really handy for produce-shopping and if you just keep them in your grocery bag, you’ll have another opportunity to remember to grab your bags from the car. (Image source:)
- Wash cloth bags when they get old instead of being turned off by them and just running back into the sanitary-seeming arms of plastic.
Never Use Bottled Water Again
About 50 billion plastic water bottles were used in America last year. And since only a sloppy 23% of those were recycled, that means that about 38 billion plastic water bottles were just dumped in landfills and in the ocean. Even recycled water bottles aren’t recycled all the way… the plastic caps don’t actually process. The biggest frustration about this is that we really don’t need plastic water bottles. Because cups exist. And so do washable water bottles. And water filters. This is a habit that should be pretty easy to break. (Image source:)
- Get a reusable water bottle that you actually like. Some come with filters so that you can purify tap water before drinking it. Others make it extra-easy to wash.
- Speaking of washing, clean out your reusable water bottle regularly so that it doesn’t acquire a funky smell. Consider buying your reusable water bottle based on how easy it is to wash. In my experience, that’s the most common hangup for people–how difficult it is to clean.
- Put a filter on your kitchen sink, or use the filter built into your fridge.
- If you’re doing an activity where having easy-to-move potable water is a necessity, like camping or building up emergency supplies, consider getting the bigger containers, like the 3-gallon bottles with a built-in dispenser.
Choose Wisely at the Store
I’m still not sure why some egg cartons are now styrofoam or plastic instead of that very eco-friendly cardboard-ish material. Anyone else know? How about milk? That used to come in paper cartons. And then there’s laundry soap. It’s not usually possible to recycle those plastic bottles that they use now instead of the large cardboard boxes with built-in handles. Think through your purchasing choices and how they package. To be honest, I actually picked my favorite yogurt because they use a cardboard-y material instead of plastic cups.
Think Twice Before Ordering Takeaway
Have you ever noticed how much extra plastic is accumulated when you order to-got? My favorite lunch spot provides a plastic box, plastic cutlery, and a plastic bag whenever I order to go. If I eat it at the restaurant, it’s served on a washable plate! There’s nothing to worry about except the plastic cutlery. So, start thinking hard about whether you need to order takeaway.
Consider eating in more often and taking your time. Conversely, you might want to think about bringing your own lunch in re-useable containers when you’re on the go. (Image source:)
About the Author
Christine is a professional writer and an avid reader who’s passionate about storytelling in all its forms. At any given moment, she’s in the middle of at least three books on anything from human psychology to ninjas. Although she’s a marathon swimmer and enjoys camping in the mountains, she believes there’s nothing better than a Dawson’s Creek marathon.
What are you doing to reduce your use of plastics?
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