Plastic products are everywhere- you cannot escape them. They come home with our grocery shopping, intertwine in our clothing items and even permeate our nice cup of tea with the humble tea bag. How is the plastic we are consuming harming the environment and ultimately, ourselves?
One person’s plastic waste is also another person’s plastic waste
Common plastic that we use today are made from fossil fuels -these can be coal, natural gas and crude oil. This plastic does not react with anything - so you can essentially use it with anything too. However, this unreactive-ness also means that it does not decay either. The bacteria can’t ‘eat’ it down and the sun would take too long to degrade it. So, it accumulates and builds up in the environment, in the oceans, in landfills. Much of the plastic waste that we generate in North America is exported to developing countries to be sorted by waste management centres. Unfortunately, because of poor waste regulation, it accumulates there too and eventually ends up in the oceans. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is an incredibly scary example of this.
A dose of plastic
BPA (Bisphenol A), a chemical used to make plastic bottles and containers was found in 93% of individuals’ urine, in a survey done by the US Centre for Diseases Control and Prevention. It can disrupt our endocrine (hormone) system and is even associated with prostate cancer and birth defects. Be sure to read the little number codes on the containers and plastic bottles you use and don’t put hot food/beverage in those labeled 3 or 7. Or, to be safer, switch to an alternative zero waste product, such as steel containers.
We also ingest small microparticles of particles with our food, water, air and the effects of this to our bodies is still unknown. All of these cause harm when we use plastic as consumers, but the extraction and production processes of plastic are equally bad due to the air pollution they cause.
Is there hope?
A big step taken by a lot of countries recently was to adopt legislation to manage plastic bags or to ban single use plastic completely. Countries such as Ireland that banned plastic in 2002, saw a 95% reduction in plastic litter. Canada has plans to completely phase out single use plastic by 2021 and India by 2022. The European Union also aims to recycle 90% of its plastic by 2025.
What can you do?
What can we do as individuals to make our transition into a plastic free lifestyle?
Here are some small steps you can take today:
- Carry your own coffee mug
- Use your own water bottle
- Start using beeswax wraps instead of cling wraps
- Use tea infusers with loose leaf tea instead of a tea bag
- Invest in a nice reusable grocery bag
- Be persistent because collective action comes from individual choices.
Remember, individually, we are one drop. But together we are an ocean.
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Article written by Sarick Chapagain