According to a 2016 report from the World Economic Forum, at least 8 million tons of plastics leak into the ocean each year, which the report compares to dumping one garbage truck full of trash into the ocean every minute.
If this pollution continues without effective intervention, the amount of plastic in the ocean is expected to weigh more than the total amount of fish by 2050.
Not only are plastics suffocating the ocean, but over 90% of plastics are produced from the fossil feedstocks from which other substances used in production are sourced. If allowed to continue in its current system, by 2050 plastics production will account for 20% of global oil consumption and 15% of the global annual carbon budget.
As co-author of the report and Professor of Engineering at University of Georgia Jenna Jambeck points out, “Most plastics don’t biodegrade in any meaningful sense, so the plastic waste humans have generated could be with us for hundreds or even thousands of years.” With a projected 12 billion metric tons of non-biodegrading plastic waste in landfills and nature by 2050, is being able to throw away food containers after a single use worth it?
Here are some easy ways you can help fight the plastic problem:
1. Support Efforts to Ban Plastics
So far several major cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Washington D.C. have enacted plastic bag bans. An effort to reduce the use of plastic straws has taken hold in cities like Seattle and D.C. In October of 2018, the European Parliament voted in a near-unanimous majority to massively reduce single-use plastic across the continent.
As governments move to curtail our reliance on single-use plastics, we can each do our part in influencing our legislators to make plastics reduction a priority by contacting our representatives about the issue.
Last year 250 organizations responsible for 20% of the world’s plastics packaging committed to the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment. The members include H&M, Unilever, PepsiCo, L’Oreal, Nestle, Coca-Cola, the city of Austin, The United Nations and more than forty academic institutions.
Another way to support major efforts to reduce plastics use is to contact companies that rely on single-use plastics and voice support for finding more sustainable alternatives.
2. Bring Reusable Bags With You to the Grocery Store
According to a 2018 report from The Guardian, Britain’s leading supermarkets alone generate over 800,000 tons of plastic packaging waste on a yearly basis. In the US, the EPA reports that plastic bags create our largest source of plastics waste at 12% of the total— which was approximately 262 million tons in 2015.
Bringing your own reusable bags to the grocery store is one of the easiest ways to tackle one of plastic’s biggest problems. Keep a couple in your car, at your workplace or wherever is most convenient on your way to the grocery store. It’s an easy thing to forget, but it’s also an easy way to make an impact on plastics reduction.
3. When Possible, Use Something Metal or Reusable
Globally, we produce over 20,000 plastic bottles every second. According to a 2017 report, 480 billion plastic drinking bottles were sold worldwide in 2016. This number is anticipated to increase to 583.3 billion by 2021. Only 7% of the bottles recycled in 2016 were turned into new bottles, most continue to end up in landfills or in nature.
These stats don’t get much better for the use of plastic straws. While many cities and businesses are transitioning to the use of non-plastic straw alternatives, you can add to the effort by investing in a metal straw.
As more of the world signs on to do its part in reducing our obscene reliance on single-use plastics, you can contribute by making sustainable, reusable products part of your lifestyle. Whenever possible, look for more environmentally friendly alternatives to commonplace plastics goods.
Finally, it’s always a good idea to support those doing good. Donate to environmental organizations leading the charge to solve our plastics problem — here are some great ones. How will you take action?
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