Photo by Nariman Mesharrafa
Did you know that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is now three times the size of France and contains more than 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic?
Read on to find out what single-use plastics are, the effects of these plastics, and why you need to join the movement against using them.
What Are Single-use Plastics?
A UN Environment report from 2018 defines single-use plastics as items intended for use just once before they’re disposed of or recycled.
Common examples of single-use plastic items include:
Plastic straws, knives, forks, and spoons
Plastic shopping carrier bags
Plastic and Styrofoam coffee cups, lids, and takeout containers
Plastic water bottles (the disposable kind rather than the reusable options)
Plastic surgical/food preparation gloves
Single-use disposable face masks
Simple, everyday items such as plastic-stemmed cotton swabs and sanitizing wipes made from polyester-based materials.
How Single-use Plastics Affect the Environment
There’s no way around it—single-use plastics are devastating to the environment and our natural world. They epitomize our modern throwaway culture. According to the UN Environment report mentioned above, a mere 9% of the world’s 9 billion tons of plastic have been recycled so far. This means that the bulk of our plastic ends up in landfills. From here, much of it washes into our waterways, rivers, and oceans, choking native wildlife and polluting their habitats.
Plastics can take hundreds or even thousands of years to degrade, and most don’t biodegrade completely. Instead, they gradually break down into tiny pieces of plastic called microplastics. These microplastics are significantly harder to remove from the environment than larger bottles, straws, and takeout boxes. Microplastics can break down into such tiny, widely polluting molecules that they have even recently been found in human blood and organs.
There is plenty of research to show this plastic’s effects on our own bodies and the rest of the planet. While Styrofoam and plastics take thousands of years to break down slowly, they contaminate our life-giving soils and water, along with the bodies of animals too.
The harmful chemicals used to manufacture plastics are easily transferred to animal tissues, where they rapidly accumulate. From there, they enter the human food chain. Styrofoam is particularly toxic when ingested. It can damage animal lungs, nerves, and reproductive systems. Other compounds like BPA, phthalates, and xenoestrogens can affect our endocrine function and increase our chances of developing cancer and other health conditions.
Our wildlife suffers due to our love affair with single-use plastic, too. Thousands of ocean creatures have perished after suffocating in plastic bags or getting snagged and choked by plastic fishing nets. They also ingest plastic waste after having mistaken it for food and get plastic items like straws lodged in their respiratory canals.
The data on this problem speaks for itself. Statistics from Global Citizen suggest that plastic production has nearly quadrupled since the 1990s. Currently, more than 150 million tons of plastic waste are floating in our oceans. This plastic is creating expansive “garbage patches” that have already surpassed the size of some of the world’s countries.
Worse still, the issue of plastic pollution is only progressing. The Canadian Government has noted that around 8 million tons of plastic enter our oceans every year—the equivalent of dumping a dump truck’s load of plastic into the sea every minute. If we continue along this trajectory, there could be more plastic in our oceans than fish by 2050 or sooner. It’s time to take drastic action.
If we don’t, the amount of plastic polluting our oceans could triple within the next decade.
How We Can Move Away From Them
The world’s current plastic pollution problem is not to be taken lightly. However, although it may be dire, we can still change the fate of our planet and our own species.
You can reduce or eliminate your consumption of single-use plastics by:
Taking reusable shopping and produce bags to the store with you instead of buying plastic carrier bags.
Limiting your consumption of processed, packaged foods and opting for more fresh, natural foods with minimal packaging
Buying groceries, cleaning suppliers, and personal care items packaged in cardboard, paper, or glass whenever possible
Buying items in bulk to limit your plastic waste production
Purchasing thrifted, second hand, and sustainably made clothes while avoiding fast fashion garments made from polyester, which leeches microplastics into the water when laundered
Taking your own coffee mugs and takeout containers to your favorite cafes and restaurants and avoiding those that don’t offer plastic-free options
Purchasing a reusable water bottle and a stainless steel straw that you can wash and reuse
Voicing support for regulatory measures to curb plastic waste, such as bans on single-use plastics and carrier bag taxes
Reusing old packaging as many times as possible. For example, empty tins make excellent stationery holders, and old plastic produce boxes are easily repurposed as garden sprouting boxes
Staying informed about the items that are and aren’t recyclable in your area
Big Brands Becoming Part Of The Solution
As an ever-increasing number of people opt to reduce or eliminate their use of single-use plastic items altogether, their choices encourage businesses to follow suit.
Some big names who have moved away from single plastic use include McDonald’s UK, Hyatt Hotels, and even the iconic coffee chain Starbucks. The chain’s pledge to stop using plastic straws by 2020 has saved approximately a billion straws from ending in landfills each year.
Even entire countries are steering clear of single-use plastics due to their devastating environmental impacts. Nations and regions like Ireland, Taiwan, the UK, Montreal, Vancouver, San Francisco, and Seattle have joined the no-plastic movement by legally limiting their citizens’ use of items like plastic straws, packets, microbeads, cotton swabs, and disposable cutlery. This movement seems to be working well in certain areas. Plastic bag use has dropped by as much as 90% since the introduction of Ireland’s plastic tax in 2002.
Putting An End To The Plastic Problem
Although global lifestyles differ dramatically, there’s one thing we can all do the same. Join the global movement to go zero waste. In doing so, we can limit our use of single-use plastics that could otherwise pollute the planet and negatively impact our health.
If everyone does their part to limit their consumption of disposable plastic, we can start to reverse the plastic problem. This will help us clean up our beautiful planet for future generations to enjoy!
Sea Going Green is a sustainable tourism consultancy that works with clients to measure and mitigate their environmental footprint to meet guest demands while saving the planet. Schedule a call with us to see where you can begin!
Schedule a sustainability scanThe world has a growing plastic pollution problem, and single-use plastics
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