Every now and then I’ll feel overwhelmed by the amount of waste humans create. I often find it difficult to separate my understanding of the situation our world is facing, from how sad it makes me to know it could be prevented. Since I want to use this knowledge and passion to fix problems, I have to walk a fine line between being unbearably pro-environment and being in denial about our circumstances. I cannot expect everyone to care about this topic nearly as much as I do, but I can translate my concerns into simple steps toward sustainability.
This outlook is what has made me start thinking about basic actions I take. I also recently had a run-in with an unfortunate amount of refuse (a mix of plastics, cans, and food) I had to find a way to dispose of. During this dismal escapade, I became acutely aware of the challenges that come along with properly doing this due to the recycling infrastructure near me as well as a general perception of trash held by people around me.
For this week’s topic, I will briefly summarize the dangers of single-use plastics, which we began relying on in the mid- to late-20th century in conjunction with the rise of our insatiable consumerism.
“Single-use plastic” is a term used to describe any plastic created for the sole purpose of using it briefly before it’s thrown away or recycled. This is commonly seen in the food industry, ranging from plastic forks to the saran wrap around pre-cut vegetables to your plastic-lined disposable coffee cup.
Plastic is so integrated in our lives that we don’t notice it (or, I didn’t) until someone points it out to us.
According to the Plastic-Free Challenge website, humans produce 300 million tons of plastic a year with half of it created for a single use.
What’s worse about plastic that makes it so different from other single-use containers made from metal, glass or paper, is that it is not biodegradable. This means that it will never break down naturally like other materials do, despite being capable of breaking into smaller and smaller particles of plastic over time.
It would be nice to say that the best alternative to this overwhelming plastic problem is to encourage more recycling. Unfortunately, most plastics cannot be recycled or it’s not economically viable to do so–the little recycle sign on your to-go container does not mean it is recyclable, but instead identifies what kind of plastic it is. This reality is due to a lack of advanced recycling technology as well as the fact that not all plastics are a high enough quality to be used again.
Plastic has its place in our world today, just like anything else, but it has been used to an extent beyond what is healthy for us or the environment–it’s time for this to change.
DITCH THE SINGLE-USE PLASTIC
I’ll be the first to admit that changing a habit or creating a new one is not an easy task. I can’t shame you for not adopting this lifestyle, especially since it is fairly revolutionary and against the status quo, but I do know we have to do something.
For those who want to be conscious consumers and to feel like they are contributing to the betterment of mankind, reducing your single-use plastic consumption is one way to start having a positive impact.
Quitting single-use plastic isn’t even something I’ve mastered yet. However, once you notice how much plastic there is around you at all moments of the day, it becomes incredibly simple to opt out of it here and there. Say no to plastic straws, grab a soda from a can instead of a bottle, and bring a reusable mug next time you go to the coffee shop.
One of my future blogs will provide more examples of alternatives to these unnecessary items that litter our homes, lives and the planet. Like so many say, the first step is to recognize and admit there is a problem. So, I implore you to take a second look at what you use each day and question whether or not it may be doing more harm than good. Then, take action.