Plastic may be convenient and easy. It appeals to our busy one time “use and throw” society. Beyond that, it exists in almost everything around us; right from the morning when we brush our teeth, to work with our phones computers, to the grocery store and it’s even in clothes we wear. But what exactly happens to the plastic once we discard the item that contains it? Do we ever think of the “life” of that plastic further than our trash can? Unfortunately for the Earth and for us, it doesn’t end by throwing it away. Its journey has just begun.
Just like the saying “Diamonds are forever.” Well, guess what?…so is plastic. The only difference is diamonds have value and we guard them safely. On the contrary, once the plastic item serves its purpose, it’s tossed away to remain eternally as waste; polluting the only home we have; Earth. Graham Forbes from Green Peace, an international environmental organization, explains, “Plastic is a substance that once created essentially exists almost in perpetuity and just breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces in the environment.”
The situation that we face today is that our rivers, lakes and oceans are literally teeming not just with fish anymore, but with all sorts of plastic. It’s fair enough to say it’s become a plastic epidemic. Fish, whales, dolphins, and turtles are meeting their death; and they are dying due to our waste. Just recently a 1,100 pound beached whale died in the Philippines with more than 88 pounds of plastic inside its body. According to a 2016 report by the World Economic Forum, 8 million metric tons of plastic go into the ocean every year. That is equal to about one garbage truck of plastic every minute. We are literally witnessing a plastic crisis; and there is no end in sight.
With such a grim situation ahead of us, what can we as individuals do to help the plastic crisis and save our planet? Sometimes the biggest result can come from the smallest change. While legislative initiatives such as passing environmental protection bills are essential, there are also many small and easy, yet powerful ways that each one of us can make a difference. Once we change, others will also join us so the ripple effect will be even greater.
Here are a few tips to get started and spark the flame of change:
- Bring cloth bags to the grocery or department store.
Make sure you bring larger cloth bags to bag up your groceries as well as small cloth or mesh bags for veggies and fruits to avoid using plastic bags each time you want a head of lettuce or an apple for example. Likewise when you go clothes shopping make sure you use cloth bags for your purchases instead of plastic or paper (which causes more trees to be cut down).
Tip: Keep a stash of cloth bags in the trunk of your car. That way if you spontaneously stop somewhere, you don’t have to resort back to using plastic or paper. You will even find the cloth bags useful for things that you never imagined!
- Use reusable cups and Tupperware.
Keep a reusable cup handy with you and use it for all your drinks instead of “one time use” plastic or paper cups. Pack meals and pack up leftovers from restaurants in reusable Tupperware containers to avoid using throwaway leftover containers.
- Keep a metal spoon or fork in your bag accessible when you travel
This may sound silly but it is very useful when travelling. You will find countless times when you’ll be on the road and thanks to your metal spoon/fork, you can avoid using plastic.
- Shop wise
While shopping, you may have noticed that practically everything is wrapped in plastic; if not just once then double, triple, quadruple plastic packed. It’s almost as if you have to have a war with your purchase once you get home to extract the product from its protective plastic shield. So next time you go shopping, shop wise by purchasing products with less plastic packaging. You may not be able to completely avoid plastic but it’s definitely a good start.
- If you don’t need, don’t buy it
This goes back to fundamentals. Are we purchasing products out of want or is it out of need? While it is definitely still fine to buy item because of want as opposed to need, this trick will help you think twice before buying something. This in turn will save you money and also protect the Earth.
- Shop at thrift stores
Try out shopping at stores like Salvation Army and Good Will for clothes and accessories. The majority of the items of the store may not be up to standards in terms of quality or style but if you sort though you will find some gems. You may even come across some designer clothes, never wore before, with the tags still on them. You can feel satisfied that you got a great item at a fraction of the cost and you have helped the environment too!
- Get involved in plastic clean up and recycling drives.
Get involved in your community and join river, beach and lake cleanup projects. If nothing is going on in your community then don’t worry, start by yourself and be an inspiration to others! Spend a small chunk of time every week picking up and recycling plastics in your area from forests, prairies, rivers, and streams. It may seem small but others who see you will feel inspired as well! In addition, spending that time outdoors every week will give you a greater understanding of the depth of the problem, as well as exercise and an appreciation and respect for nature.
- Stay educated
As they say, knowledge is like gold. Make sure you keep yourself educated about the environment and help spread the word to others too on the changes you have made in your own life to avoid plastics, and on the environmental crisis in the world. NGOs like Green Peace and World Wildlife Fund are great resources to keep you updated on the latest issues and can provide you with new ideas to help you stay environmentally friendly!
The plastic crisis, along with countless other environmental challenges, may seem daunting and even scary. However, through each individual’s small changes in lifestyle, we can make a difference in our world. But there is no time to spare. If we want this world to be a clean, safe home for generations to come, we have to start changing today. If we don’t change our ways, ocean plastic is predicted to triple within a decade and there could literally be more plastic in the ocean than fish. Without wasting even a day more let’s all become guardians of the Earth, our only home, and make efforts to become a spark of hope for change.
Watch this short but inspirational video of a man from Mumbai India who cleaned up more than 9000 tons of trash from a beach in his home town. While he started single handed, his actions inspired countless people to help and make the journey of his dream of a clean beach into a reality.