The average American produces 5.91 pounds of trash per day. Collectively, that’s a massive 254 million tons of waste per year, of which only 34.3% is recycled.
No country produces quite as much waste as the United States. This is why it is imperative that we refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle and rot.
However one of the biggest impediments of recycling is plastics. It is estimated that 91% of plastics are not recycled, due to many forms of plastics taking ten to a few hundred years to properly degrade in sunlight, and even more with the ones hidden deep within landfills.
The plastics industry, once seen as glamorous and transformative, is now perceived as a great disadvantage to our environment. Unlike glass and metal, it is extremely hard to degrade and seems to last forever. Two of the greatest factors affected by plastics are:
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a swirling collection of plastic floating in between the waters of California and Hawaii and has recently been reported to be 1.6 square kilometres. For reference, that’s larger than the entire province of Quebec, Canada.
Weathering and disintegration, combined, slowly breaks down plastics into smaller and smaller particles before they become micro-plastics, measured in at less than 5mm in size. And then as the micro-plastics get smaller, the easier they are for marine life to consume. This is where the problem lies: while these plastics can be consumed, they cannot be properly digested, nor absorbed as these organisms’ digestive systems lack the ability to break down synthetic polymers.
The plastics making up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch can be traced all the way back to the 70s, 80s and 90s. That just goes to show how enduring plastics can be. And even though most of us try to do our part by recycling, the sad fact of the matter is the lack of profitable markets for recycled materials, and the high costs, often means that a lot of our plastics do not end up recycled.
A major component of most plastics is Bisphenol A (BPA), a cheap chemical compound that is lightweight and shatterproof, first synthesized in 1891. It is often found in water bottles, baby bottles and plastic cups. Plastics with BPA are often found to leach when exposed to heat—microwaving, washed with hot water, while storing hot foods or liquids. And even more alarming is a study conducted in 2009 which found that those who drank cold liquids from hard-plastic bottles had more than 2 thirds BPA in their urine. BPA has been linked to cardiovascular problems, the promotion of human breast cancer cell growth, affecting puberty, ovulation and potentially infertility.
We've been thinking long and hard about how we can reduce, and ideally eliminate, our plastic usage. What are alternatives should we look out for?
Here are 11 simple ways we can try to save the ocean from becoming a plastic soup.
Say bye-bye to products to with plastic packaging.Refuse those single-serving packaging, excess packaging (we’re thinking of those supermarket bananas portioned out by being packaged into servings), straws and other disposable plastics.
- Take cloth shopping bags with you (they’re really compactible) and bring your own metal or glass water bottle along.
- Carry reusable utensils in your bag or car to use whenever you get takeout, or find yourself at a BBQ or potluck.
- In the day and age of Netflix, Hulu, HBO Go, etc etc, it’s time to go digital! Bid farewell to CDs, DVDs and plastic cases once you switch over to getting your entertainment online.
- Replace those sandwich bags with reusable lunch boxes/bags.
- Start bringing your own travel/to-go mug to your favourite coffee shop instead of getting a disposable cup every time.
- Take care to avoid plastic bags and Styrofoam, as these are typically the two plastics with the lowest recycling rates.
- RECYCLE: choose PETE or HDPE plastics if need be, as they are the two most commonly recyclable plastics.
- Volunteer at your local beach clean-ups. Get involved in Clean Up days and events in your local community.
- Avoid personal care products that include micro-beads (we’re looking at those apricot scrubs!), as those are just micro-plastics.
- Actively choose to shop clothing made from organic fibres and avoid plastic microfibers. Not only do they last longer, are softer, but they’re much better for the environment. All our Flower Children t-shirts are made from 100% cotton.
Of course plastics are unfortunately one of the most ingrained substances in our society, and to say we could move away from them overnight would be a stretch. However one of the best things we, as the primary consumer, can do is signal that we are ready for a change. Vote with our dollars! Refuse to products that come with tones of plastic packaging and save our Earth.