It’s week eight of 52 Weeks for Earth, the 52-week challenge to gradually reduce your impact on the planet. Already in recent weeks we’ve quit using some of the most common forms of single-use plastics; plastics that are made to be used once and disposed of, and are generally not recyclable. If you’ve missed any of those challenges, or found yourself slipping; that’s okay! This week we’re going to stop using any and all single-use plastics.
Plastic is so commonplace in today’s society people don’t always stop to think about how huge an impact our consumption of it has on the planet. 700 million tons of plastic is produced every year, and half of that is made for single-use. Under the right conditions plastic will break down over a hundred years, but there’s no sustainable way to provide those ideal conditions to the enormous amount of plastic constantly being produced.
This means all this plastic is likely to exist on earth in some form for many more centuries to come. Over that time an inconceivable amount of plastic is likely to be washed into the ocean. Already, every year 8 million tons of plastic waste leak into the ocean, and over the last decade we’ve generated more plastic than the previous 100 years. This rate of production, consumption, and disposable is far from sustainable.
It takes plastic 400 years to degrade in water. During that time plastic breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces, or microplastics. The millions of tiny pieces of microplastics mixed with water becomes a kind of plastic soup. And while you may have seen some of the many great projects working to retrieve plastic debris from the ocean, it’s a far greater challenge to remove the virtually invisible microplastics from the water.
Why is it so important to protect our oceans?
Oceans are the largest ecosystems on earth and are vital for not only marine life, or human life, but all life on earth. 70% of the oxygen we breathe is produced by marine plants, and more than 97% of the planet’s water is in the ocean.
A sixth of the animal protein mankind eats come from the ocean. However, microplastics in the ocean leak toxins into the many marine animals who are unknowingly ingesting them. And those harmful toxins transfer and increase as they go up the food chain, eventually ending up on our plates.
So what can we do?
Stop contributing to this problem by quitting single-use plastics. Amazingly, for something so prevalent in modern life, a lot of single-use plastic isn’t even necessary, and is simply made and used out of convenience. Luckily this makes quitting easier than you may think! Already we’ve discussed quitting plastic straws, beverage cups, bottles, bags, cutlery and packaging, so in addition to those, take a look at your personal consumption habits and identify other sources of plastic you buy, or are given, and use for less than a day. For example, zip lock bags, single-serve sauce packets, food wrappers, take out containers, synthetic tea bags, produce bags, and much more.
Once you’ve figured out the wasteful items you use, think creatively how you can remove this from your life. For example, often plastics can be avoided by choosing to eat-in instead of take-away. Choosing an alternative product wrapped in paper, glass or foil. Wrapping your own food in cloth or reusable container. Bringing your own cup, plate, utensils or container to a party, event, take-out place or bulk aisle of the grocery store. There’s a lot of alternatives available, and google is a great resource for finding one that will suit your lifestyle!
With Plastic Free July right around the corner this is the perfect opportunity to get a head start on life without single-use plastic! You can find out more about Plastic Free July and register for the challenge on their website.