A straw with our iced coffee, a plastic bag to carry our takeout, a plastic bag for our groceries: taken individually, each seems harmless. These modern conveniences are so common place—and so quickly thrown out—that they hardly register in our minds. But single-use plastics come with a steep environmental price—one that we’ll be paying off for many, many centuries. Our plastic addiction is having a devastating impact on our oceans, our wildlife, and our health. It’s time for a plastic intervention…
Quick Facts ~
What are Single-Use Plastics?
Single-use plastics are goods that are made primarily from fossil fuel–based chemicals (petrochemicals) and are meant to be disposed of right after use—often, in mere minutes. Single-use plastics are most commonly used for packaging and service ware, such as bottles, wrappers, straws, and bags.
Why is Single-Use Plastic Bad?
Out of the 300 million tons of plastic produced each year worldwide, half of which is for single-use items. A whopping 91 percent of all plastic isn’t recycled. Instead it ends up in landfills or in the environment. Single-use plastics in particular—especially small items like straws, bags, and cutlery—are traditionally hard to recycle because they fall into the crevices of recycling machinery and therefore are often not accepted by recycling centers (a good example are the plastic grocery bags).
Left alone, plastics don’t really break down; they just break up. Over time, sun and heat slowly turn plastics into smaller and smaller pieces until they eventually become what are known as microplastics. These microscopic plastic fragments, no more than 5 millimeters long, are hard to detect—and are just about everywhere.
Why does that matter? Exposure to microplastics, as well as the chemicals that are added to plastics during processing, harm our health. Many of the chemicals in plastics are known endocrine disruptors and research has suggested that human exposure could cause health impacts including hormonal imbalances, reproductive problems like infertility, and even cancer. Microplastics have been detected in marine organisms from plankton to whales, in commercial seafood, and even in drinking water. Alarmingly, standard water treatment facilities cannot remove all traces of microplastics. To further complicate matters, microplastics in the ocean can bind with other harmful chemicals before being ingested by marine organisms.
What Can We Do?
Seems that we are a “throw away and convenience culture” Instead of investing in quality goods that will last, we often prioritize convenience over consideration of long-term impacts. How do we change that mindset? Truly, it comes down to our individual choices. By just making one change in your daily lives could spare the environment hundreds of plastic water bottles or grocery bags. Below are a few tips to get you started in ridding your life of single-use plastics.
Let’s do our part and be the generation to change this disruptive path of harmful plastics!
Photo by David via Flickr