I mentioned in my latest Newsletter (which if you are not signed up for, what are you doing?) that I have been devouring information on environmental issues lately. From podcasts to YouTube videos and even articles on the web…I am obsessed with learning about the current state of the environment. Sustainability has been a topic of conversation for decades and heads up: it’s not going anywhere. In fact, our issues with materials such as plastic have only ramped up over the past few years and if we don’t start making changes, we won’t be able to fix things.
When it comes to the environment there is a lot of information to digest. So much in fact, that I have decided it would be best to start a series here on the blog where I can share information on environmental issues as well as tips on how you can be part of the solution. First up: PLASTIC!
I have spent the past few months focusing on the effects of plastic pollution (specifically single-use plastics) and the first thing I learned was how much I contribute to the issue. I am nothing short of mortified when I think about the amount of plastic I use and, at times, don’t dispose of properly. From plastic bags to my weekly coffee cup from Starbucks, I was using a LOT of plastic each and every day. As shamed as I feel, I have continued to educate myself on this issue; forcing myself to ‘face the music.’ From podcast episodes (like this one with Take 3’s co-founder, Tim Silverwood) to articles and documentaries, I have been blown away by the facts surrounding our use of plastics. Ever hear of the ‘life cycle’ of an item? I hadn’t. Turns out there is so much more going into each material that we use including everything it takes in energy and ingredients to create a product before it gets into your hands and everything that happens to that product once you dispose of it.
Here are some more facts on plastics for you to chew on:
In today’s post we are going to look at 4 ways people abuse single-use plastic items in their everyday life and ways that you can change things up to make a positive impact.
It’s pretty common knowledge that plastic bags are awful for the environment. Their life cycle is so large and yet humans are using plastic bags for merely a few minutes before discarding them in some way. It is estimated that nearly two million plastic bags are used every minute! This is not just the bags that are handed to you when shopping. This includes the produce bags offered in the aisles of grocery stores as well as the plastic bags used to package our everyday products.
Along with the usage of these bags comes the bigger problem at hand: how we discard them. Most people end up throwing out their bags which is not the proper way to rid of them. Bags should be recycled or reused if used at all. To make things more complicated, it has recently been determined that plastic bags which are recycled often end up in landfills anyway as a large number of recycle companies cannot properly dispose of them (they report the bags tend to clog their machinery).
Over the past few years, countries all over the world have made huge strides in the plastic bag epidemic. Almost all retailers are stepping up and offering reusable bags for purchase or eliminating the bag option altoger. Stores like Aldi are even charging for the use of bags in hopes of encouraging people to bring their own. Things are even shaking up on a national front with various states starting to ban the use of plastic bags across the board.
An easy way to include yourself in this solution is to have a stash of reusable bags readily available (I keep mine in my car) so that you are never in need of a plastic one. These bags can also be used at stores like Walgreens and/or Target! There are also lots of reusable bag options for produce or when buying in bulk-stores.
Remember last year when someone found a beautiful sea turtle with a 4 inch plastic straw stuck in its nose? This single event caused a major movement against plastic straws and even got Starbucks to introduce their transition to recyclable straws. This sea turtle that created such a stir is one of millions of marine creatures that are subjected to the 500 million plastic straws that are used every year in the U.S. alone! These straws very easily find their way to the world’s coastlines where they contribute to the beach’s massive pollution problem. It doesn’t stop there. Plastic utensils have also upticked the plastic pollution sprawling across our beaches, forests, and even our suburban regions. That’s right – take a quick look around you next time you are in a populated area and chances are, you will find some sort of plastic utensil or straw lying around.
The easiest solution is to not use a straws or plastic utensils at all. While that sounds nice, it’s probably less realistic as we humans love the ease of a straw and the hygiene of forks and knives. Luckily for us, there are a number of options that allow us to have straws and utensils in a reusable way. These options are cheap, easy to find and they come in materials such as bamboo, glass, and stainless steel. Even I thought it would be a challenge to stop using plastic straws/utensils, especially when eating out, but really it was just a matter of establishing new habits. My favorite tip is to carry a reusable straw and set of silverware with you (in your purse or in a desk drawer at work) so that you always have a more sustainable option available.
When they say that environmental damage is often done without anyone realizing, they are not kidding. Even with companies making solid efforts to use more sustainable materials for their to-go options, the amount of waste that is compiled each day from items like take-away containers and coffee cups is immeasurable. Even some of the paper cups that companies use are often lined with a membrane of polyethylene which is another form of plastic. Coffee cups are just as likely to land in our oceans, parks, and streets as plastic bottles. Scientists have also found that even the biodegradable options can take years to compost (if at all) because there are very specific composting conditions required to break down the materials.
Reusable coffee cup options have been around for decades, but it’s only recently that they are making their way into the hands of consumers. You can find reusable coffee canisters pretty much anywhere and there are tons of reusable materials to choose from. (Even the reusable cups made from plastic are better than the single-use ones handed to you at your local cafe.) I personally use a stainless steel option which keeps my coffee warm for a longer period of time. I have also found that most places will give you a discount for bringing your own cup so you get to save money and the environment!
Similar to coffee cups, plastic bottles are a major issue for the environment. In fact, single-use plastic bottles are one of the largest contributors to plastic pollution today which shouldn’t come as a surprise since over a million of them are purchased every minute! Think about that – in just 60 seconds, over a million plastic bottles are being purchased. Even considering my own usage of plastic bottles, I could damn-near cry. Plastic bottles end up everywhere. About 26 million tonnes end up in landfills and 8 million tonnes in our oceans.
Luckily for us, the companies helping us get our coffee into reusable containers are also making reusable options for other beverages. There are thousands of brands using materials such as stainless steel and glass to create a sustainable cup that you can use over and over again. These options are easy to use and easy to clean. It may take some time getting used to carrying one with you and filling it up on your way out the door, but doing this saves you money (no more money spent on various beverages at your local convenience store) and it encourages you to stay hydrated throughout the day.
The following are resource links used for the information provided within the post:
Takeaway Coffee Cups
The Turtle That Became the Anti-Plastic Straw Poster Child
The Plastic Facts
Starbucks to Eliminate Plastic Straws Globally by 2020
Plastic Oceans Facts
Plastic Production, Use and Fate
EPA Facts and Figures (US)