Plastic is everywhere. During a period of time so short that it barely registers on the timeline marking the existence of the human race, plastic has transformed civilization and the ecosystem. The man-made, petroleum based material is ubiquitous in every aspect of modern life, as are the catastrophic impacts of plastic pollution.
Plastic doesn’t biodegrade. Every bit that has ever been created still exists on the planet today. Since 1950, 9 billion tons of plastic has been produced. With only 9% of that being recycled, 91% has been released into the environment and become a part of our ecosystem, with devastating consequences for ecosystems, wildlife, human health, and the global economy. Recent discoveries about the insidious problem of microplastics reveal that the plastic waste we can’t see is a gargantuan part of plastic pollution, with impacts that are only beginning to be understood.
Perhaps most alarming is the speed at which plastic production is accelerating. Projections show that plastic manufacturing will double by 2045 and triple by 2060! Fortunately, governments around the world are beginning to come to terms with the existential need to curb plastic pollution- and it will only be through policy and regulation that systemic change can happen on a meaningful scale. But the pushback from private industry is fierce, and many fear that regulatory interventions will be too little, too late.
As an individual, you are not powerless to help. As more and more consumers choose to drastically reduce or eliminate single-use plastics from their lives, markets are beginning to respond. Demand is growing for plastic-free products and the option to buy in bulk. In a world where industry rules, what we choose or choose not to buy represents one of our greatest powers. I’m going to share some simple ways that you can use this power right now and make a difference in the fight against plastic pollution.
36% of all plastic manufactured is used for packaging, 85% of which ends up in landfills. Reducing or eliminating packaging is one of the best ways to ditch your consumption of plastic.
You can use your consumer power to support products with minimal or no packaging as well as products that use biodegradable, plastic-free packaging. Check out this package free shop for ideas.
Another way you can say no to plastic packaging is by buying in bulk. Buying one gallon of shampoo rather than buying ten 12 oz bottles will reduce both the amount of plastic packaging you consume AND the carbon emissions associated with trips to the store or deliveries to your house.
To eliminate packaging all together, you can bring a reusable container to a store that carries the item you need in bulk. You simply weigh your container, fill it up, and determine the weight of the product you’re purchasing by subtracting the weight of your container. This process is known as taring and makes package-free shopping a breeze!
If your local grocery store doesn’t carry bulk items, request that they do, and get your friends to do that same! Zero waste stores (which is where you’d be most likely to find something like package-free shampoo) are rising in popularity. This app will tell you where to find bulk and zero-waste stores near you!
At first, it takes a little extra planning and effort, but eventually it will be second nature! Replacing disposables with reusables is an easy way to take the plastic out of your life and the environment. As reusables have been rising in popularity for years now, they’ve become widely available. That menas we don’t have any excuses for opting for disposable plastics when it’s so easy to go reusable! Here are just a few examples of how you can embrace the trend:
Shopping bags. ONE TRILLION single-use plastic bags are used worldwide every year! Refuse to use them by making sure you always have reusable bags handy. We all forget sometimes, but eventually the habit of bringing your own bags to the store will stick!
Water bottles. 500 BILLION disposable plastic water bottles are used every year! Just don’t do it! There are so many fun reusable water bottles to choose from- and eventually they pay for themselves with the money you don’t spend on buying water in plastic bottles. What are you waiting for?
Cutlery. 40 BILLION pieces of plastic cutlery are used and thrown away each year! There’s no need to contribute to this mountain of waste. You can keep a set of reusable cutlery with you to use for your meals on-the-go or when dining establishments serve plastic with your meal.
To-go containers. Plastic containers used by restaurants make up 10% of all of the plastic pollution in the ocean. We all love leftovers, but they’ll taste better if they don’t involve contributing to the death of 1 million marine animals/ year! Bring your reusable to-go containers to the restaurant and enjoy your leftovers with a clear eco-conscience.
PLASTIC FREE HYGIENE
One of the biggest culprits of microplastic pollution is the personal hygiene industry. Many people would be shocked to learn that their hair, skin, and bathing products are full of plastics that, after being washed off, make their way to waterways and the ocean. Furthermore, bathrooms are full of single-use disposable plastics, found in hygiene products like cotton buds, menstrual products, and dental floss.
Fortunately, you can find plastic-free alternatives for every cosmetic and hygiene product imaginable! You can use this search engine to find plastic-free products or to check the ingredients of the ones you already use. Check out EcoRoots for zero-waste hair care products and MoonPads for plastic-free solutions to menstrual care.
For more ideas about how to eliminate plastic from your personal hygiene realm, check out my article Green Your Bathroom Routine.
THE POWER OF COMMITTING TO CHANGE
Making changes can feel overwhelming, and that overwhelm often becomes the excuse to do nothing. That’s why it’s important to realize that you don’t need to overhaul your entire life to take a stand against single-use plastics. You can start with simple actions that won’t disrupt your life at all- choose a few from the suggestions above!
These simple changes are heroic because they represent the stark difference between being a part of the problem vs a part of the solution. Should you decide to start slowly phasing out plastic, in time you’ll find it easier and easier to go plastic-free until you can claim to have eliminated it from your life.
USING YOUR VOICE
The choices you make as a consumer are very important, AND as I previously noted, systemic change is necessary to meaningfully combat plastic pollution. So, one of the most important ways you can support the cause is to use your voice to pressure your local, state, and federal legislatures. Check out this guide from the UN Environmental Programme for practical steps you can take.
Speak to your friends and family! Talk to them about the ways that you’re making changes to combat plastic pollution. Behavior change happens through example and social modeling. Go ahead, model your plastic free lifestyle. You look gorgeous!