Maybe you live in a cottage by the sea, love surfing, or scuba dive every day. If so, you’ve seen the effects of human destruction and pollution up close and personal. But, maybe you live far inland, maybe you never visit the beach, maybe you have never seen the ocean and never plan to. That doesn’t make the oceans any less important to you.
In fact, anyone who is a fan of living and breathing should be a fan of the seas. They produce about half of our oxygen, enabling the planet to sustain life – and we are suffocating them with pollution. Over one hundred thousand marine mammals, and more than one million seabirds perish every year as a result of plastic pollution. And it’s not just animals that are dying. We are killing the seas themselves, with more than 500 dead zones already recorded, according to UNESCO.
So, are the seas doomed?
If we keep doing what we’re doing, probably so. Fortunately, times are changing. Slowly, laws are being passed and many businesses are becoming more eco-friendly. Is it enough? Is it happening fast enough? Those are the questions that no one can answer yet, but the rapid decline of marine environments indicates that we need to do more. And, you can do more than you may think.
Plastic is a big problem. Tens of thousands of tons are produced, used, and discarded every day. Powerful corporate lobbyists fight against environmental legislation. While the grueling fight against plastics can be disheartening, there is gradual progress. Moreover, the individual consumer is not as powerless (or as innocent) as many people believe.
Despite the focus of legal and corporate action, it’s hard to overlook the responsibility of consumers. Economics, at its simplest level, is supply and demand. Simply put, if we don’t buy it, they won’t make it. Furthermore, if we don’t throw it out, it won’t land in the oceans. A depressingly large amount of plastic pollution can be attributed to our desire for convenience.Disposable shopping bags, single-serve beverages, individually wrapped snacks, plastic silverware… They all have two things in common. We can live without them, and they are trashing the planet.
According to the EPA, the United States generated 32 million tons of plastic trash in 2012, with less than 10% of it recycled. Only about one third of that was durable goods, a category including items such as appliances. Non-durable goods, like the plastic cups we use for convenience at parties, accounted for nearly 7 million tons, and packaging (including plastic water bottles) produced a whopping 14 tons of waste.
We can do better!
Addressing the problem at legal and corporate levels is no small task, but it’s not entirely out of your hands. You can write to legislators and business leaders, sign petitions, donate time or money to environmental groups, and add your voice to online discussions. Yes, even the last item makes a difference, because public opinion drives industrial trends.
Beyond that, we can strive to reduce – or better yet eliminate – plastics from our lives. In fact, one of the best solutions to plastic pollution can be summarized the three very familiar words: Reduce, reuse, and recycle. Three simple words, with endless ways to implement them; here are a few tips:
- Skip the pre-packaged, single-serve, convenience foods, bubble-packs, and similarly packaging-laden items. Farmer’s markets, produce isles, and natural food stores often have bulk bins or displays, allowing you to fill your own re-usable container and skip packaging completely.
- Thrift stores and second-hand shops can save you money, and keep someone’s discarded treasures out of the trash. Similarly, crafters often work with re-purposed or eco-friendly (plastic free) supplies, and if you buy locally packaging can often be avoided.
- Opt for glass food storage, steel water bottles, and other durable, environmentally friendly, alternatives to plastic containers. Even plastic products billed as reusable, such as commuter mugs and serving trays, often find their way to the trash after just a few uses.
- Beware of hidden plastics. Plastic pollution includes less obvious sources such as microbeads in cosmetic products, synthetic fibers in clothing, plastic notebook covers, watch bands, and kids costume jewelry.
The above list is just a few of many possibilities. Most importantly think. Pay attention to every piece of plastic you use and discard; be resourceful with solutions. It’s time to think outside the plastic bag!