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Plastics impact our lives daily. They efficiently package the organic produce we purchase at supermarkets and most of the electronic tools we use are made of them. Plastics even help save lives in the form of airbags. But while most people would think that plastics all good because they can be recycled, the truth is that some forms of it are ‘downcycled’ and can never be used again.
Many of us still remain in the dark when it comes to understanding plastics. Even today’s industry experts are baffled by what ‘biodegradable’ really means. Since the technology’s inception in the late eighties, we are yet to really realize the promise of biodegradable plastics and its intended nature to decompose after being used, as to how organic compost would. Worse, there are still many consumers who are not as enthusiastic about recycling plastics because it uses too much fossil fuel. Almost 100 % of plastics come from chemicals in fossil fuels and the latter’s continued depletion creates serious impacts in climate change.
To effectively illustrate the current plastic crisis…
Only seven percent of the 33 million tons of plastic waste we generate annually is actually recycled. The rest is distributed to landfills and major water bodies which helped become the Great Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch — the greatest accumulation of plastic waste in the world.
Certain plastics can only be broken down by 130 degrees of heat from an industrial composter, and without it, the fragments left behind create adverse effects both to the environment and human health. Throwing your recyclable plastics with biodegradables is not a good idea as well. Its integration may only make the plastics non-renewable.
Given these facts, it’s time we ask ourselves how to properly approach plastic waste management. Every small deed can help save our planet’s oceans, and being aware of the pros and cons of this polymeric material can go a long way. The key is to put its benefits and drawbacks into proper context and move forward with best practices.
Here are six things you can do each day to help mitigate the plastic crisis and why you should:
Refrain from using plastic bags
Most stores now encourage consumers to use paper bags or reusable eco-bags rather than plastic ones. For a couple of things, it lessens overhead costs and establishes a company’s favorable stand for sustainable development. Still, commercial companies all around the world use a trillion plastic bags annually which also translate to the consumption of millions of gallons of petroleum for its production, distribution, and disposal.
Consider joining communities who are adamant in imposing bans on the use of plastic in stores and you just might be in a good position to make a difference. In 2007, San Francisco was the first city to implement plastic-free grocery stores. Today, the city is on track in realizing its zero-waste target by next year. The important thing is to sacrifice a little convenience for what greater good that sacrifice can achieve. Refraining from using plastic bags for your groceries and shopping items may just tell companies that every one of us can actually do away with this destructive practice.
Use metal straws
Drinking straws were brought about by the Sumerians and were first used for beer. These straws were made of the precious blue metamorphic stone lapis lazuli. In Argentina, straws were made of the metal bombilla for drinking mate tea. Plastic straws only came into existence after World War 2 when Sip-N-See mass produced polyethylene and acetate straws for sodas.
In retrospect, what used to be a valuable tool made of exquisite materials and intended for traditional beverages, morphed into cheap and overexploited products sold by commercial companies for profit.
However, more and more are bringing back the glory of metal straws nowadays upon realizing the great damage that these little tubes can really do. Some even resort to paper straws despite how its taste can sometimes meld with their beverages.
The fact is that plastic straws cannot be recycled easily given its polypropylene properties. Americans discard half a billion units every day with most of it ending up in landfills and remain there for hundreds of years, or serve as poison to marine life when it makes its way to the oceans. Again, a little sacrifice will go a long way and all you have to do is decide that you’re willing to make it for the sake of the planet.
Shun plastic bottles
More and more people are now switching to refillable water bottles for their gym and fitness regimen or marathon runs, instead of purchasing bottled water, and for good reason. Bottled water uses 17 million barrels of oil for every 50 billion units per year—a process that also releases greenhouse gasses into the earth’s atmosphere, and contributes to generating more hard-to-recycle garbage.
Environment-friendly makers of refillable water bottles are even upgrading their products by installing filters to ensure pristine water quality. Unfortunately, almost one million bottles of water are still sold globally per minute, and only one in every five bottles is properly recycled. Stop and think about how much you’ll save for yourself when you use a refillable bottle. That’s about $3,000 per year to be exact for four bottles a day at $2 each. Most refillable water bottles are also BPA-free which reduces your risk of cancer as opposed to drinking from those BPA-filled water bottles.
Buy products that don’t have plastic packaging
There is now an assortment of products available in supermarkets which don’t use plastic packaging. Bar soaps, clothing, and even fresh produce are now being sold in stores sans the plastic. European supermarkets are already taking the lead in doing away with oil-based containers and using compostable replacements instead.
There are now zero-waste grocery stores all over the world where you can buy chewable toothpaste or olive oil dispensed into your own container. If you have to buy beans, pasta, rice, nuts, or cereal, buy by the bulk and reuse an eco-bag to cut down on costs. While more and more grocery stores are jumping the environment-friendly bandwagon, the real horror is that we still won’t see a no-plastic packaging norm in the near future.
Most consumers still prefer personal convenience over reversing the unfavorable effects brought about by the use of plastic. If we want to create a culture aimed towards ecological benefits, we have to start right now.
Perhaps the real problem lies not merely on the ignorance of many, but more on their refusal to acknowledge the dangers that the use of plastics bring. In today’s age of social media, one more thing we can do to help save the planet for future generations is to integrate awareness with encouragement and let our own behavior and practices be the voice that makes the difference.
Photo by Brian Yurasits on Unsplash
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Source: Impact Hub