5 Steps to Help Combat the Plastic Pollution Crisis
Photo credit: Unsplash, Martin Sanchez
A 5 minute read –
I recently read an article in the Guardian revealing that the oil and gas industry has invested $180 billion to increase the world’s plastic production by 40% over the next decade. Take a moment to let that sink in.
“The new facilities – being built by corporations like Exxon Mobile Chemical and Shell Chemical – will help fuel a 40% rise in plastic production in the next decade, according to experts, exacerbating the plastic pollution crisis that scientist warn already risks ‘near permanent pollution of the earth,’” the article quotes.
Well, what’s so bad about plastic anyways?
In short, everything decomposes because tiny organisms called microbes ingest it, causing it to break down. Plastic is so far removed from its original natural compounds that no microbes will eat it, rendering it virtually unable to decompose. It will slowly break down into smaller and smaller fragments until it is no longer visible to the naked eye, but then will enter into the bodies of fish and other species, including us, causing all sorts of health problems. It is also made with toxic chemicals that can leach into groundwater and our food supply. Plastic will never decompose. Ever. And it is quite literally choking our oceans, rivers and beaches.
If you are like me and care about the planet, this is terrifying. What can we as tiny individuals do against the vast resources of multi billion dollar corporations? We don’t want the permanent pollution of the earth!
We have two choices. Either we can collapse under the crushing fear of our powerlessness, or we can realize that every choice we make has the opportunity to cause ripple effects of change. The truth is, every dollar that we spend, everything that we consume affects the economy, those immediately surrounding us, and on the macro level the whole world.
Below I will share five simple things you can implement into your everyday life to combat plastic pollution.
Yes! Mindfulness. It is not just about meditation and yoga stuff. It is simply the art of being aware. Just be mindful of how much plastic you consume on a daily, weekly, monthly basis. How much of that is single use? How much of that goes straight to the landfill? How much of that is recyclable? How much are you able to re purpose and reuse?
Just notice. Our society has programmed us to take the plastic straw, the disposable cutlery, the plastic cup, the styrofoam container without second thought. What if you paused for a moment and reflected. Do I really need a straw? What if I filled up my water bottle instead of getting a plastic cup?
Being mindful will help you start to see plastic everywhere and the myriad ways in which it passes through our hands. We are all part of the global plastic crisis simply by being consumers of it. Are you to blame? No! Of course not! But without us taking personal responsibility for our individual consumption we can’t expect it to change on a societal and global level.
2) Carry a refillable water bottle and coffee cup
This might seem obvious, but it really will make a big difference! One million plastic water bottles are bought and sold around the world every minute! That’s a lot! Many of those end up in landfills or in the ocean. By making a commitment not to buy plastic water bottles and instead carry a refillable one you will save hundreds of plastic water bottles from going to the landfill!
This can spill over into coffee cups as well. Coffee cups cannot be recycled because of a plastic wax coating on the inside that makes them watertight. If you bring a reusable coffee cup with you every day, or use the ceramic mugs provided by most cafes, think of how many cups won’t end up in the landfill because of you!
3) Stop buying plastic bags
How many times can you wash a sandwich bag and reuse it? I have lost count of the times I’ve washed my plastic bags! I’ve had some of them for years. And I don’t remember the last time I bought plastic bags.
Furthermore, what if we didn’t need them at all? Instead of sandwich bags and plastic wrap, try these beeswax wraps from Etee. They work great and can be composted when they’re worn out! Also try replacing plastic produce bags from the grocery store with reusable cotton ones like these from the wonderful online shop Wild Minimalist. On that note, always bring reusable canvas totes to the grocery store so you don’t have to use plastic or paper bags to carry your groceries home. I try to make it a game: how few plastic bags can I consume every week?
4) Recycle everything!
Seriously, most plastics can be recycled. So if you must consume plastic, at least make sure it is recycled properly. Check your city’s website to see what is recyclable in your area. Even plastic bags can be recycled! Most urban areas have a specialty items recycling facility. The Denver area has the Cherry Creek Recycling Center which takes many hard to recycle items. Many supermarkets have receptacles to recycle plastic bags including most Safeways, King Soopers and Targets. You may have to take your items to the facility yourself, but it’s worth it to know you are responsibly disposing of your waste instead of letting it end up in a landfill or the ocean!
5) Buy in bulk
Investing in linen bulk bags these like from Wild Minimalist and shopping in bulk will save you tons of plastic packaging waste! Whole Foods and Sprouts have amazing bulk sections. You can even bring your mason jars and have them pre weighed so you can fill them up with freshly ground peanut butter, or whatever else you want! To read more about shopping in bulk, see my article: EVERYTHING BULK – THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO BULK SHOPPING.
To wrap it up, being conscious of your plastic consumption does take some organization, but for me it has been a fun and easy way to make less waste! And considering how simple each of these steps are and how much personal waste they will save it really is a win win. Remember it’s a process. It isn’t about being perfect. Every tiny action counts. It’s about regaining balance with yourself and with the world. In a way, minimizing my personal waste has become a spiritual practice, an act of love to the earth and to myself.
Please let me know in the comments below if you have any questions or have further tips to share!