The global plastics problem
Our daily routine is full of small plastic objects that we use only once and discard. Objects such as cotton swabs, cigarettes, coffee cups, bags and plastic packaging have a supremely short life. They may be convenient in many cases but ask yourself if a lifespan of 10 minutes is worth the hundreds of years it takes for plastic to degrade.
When plastics are not properly disposed of, they end up in the sea. There, the action of water and sunlight converts them into small fragments that are ingested by marine animals. Once inside the food chain, these micro-plastics bio-accumulate and eventually reach people
Although it is not known with certainty what effects microplastics have on human health, there is concern about the toxic substances used in their manufacture, such as BPA, triclosan, brominated flame retardants and organotin compounds. It is speculated that these compounds can be detached from the plastic fragments and harm the health of people who inadvertently ingest them in seafood, sea salt and fish (Galloway, 2015).
Single use plastics
The global problem of plastics is not easy to solve, but we as consumers can help by modifying our habits. For example, around 200 billion bottles of water are consumed annually in the world. So, if a person decides not to buy water in a plastic bottle, it can prevent about 27 bottles from reaching the landfill annually. Imagine how many bottles we could avoid if we all started carrying a reusable glass or aluminum refillable bottle with us.
Other particularly problematic plastics are disposables. In a normal office day you receive many, for example, the caps and mixers when you order coffee to go, the disposable cutlery that comes with your takeout lunch, the cigarettes, the packages of mints, cookies, etc. The amount of energy and resources needed to produce that plastic is very high compared to the short service they provide
Imagine that you need to make yourself a pair of disposable cutlery from scratch. To begin with, you would have to make exploration wells to extract the oil you need as raw material. Then you would have to process it in a special plant to create the polymer and color it. Then you give them the shape and hence, you have to make a mold and use heat to melt the plastic pellets. Finally, you would have to pack the cutlery and send them. In short, you need a lot of effort, machinery, production plants, chemical compounds, furnaces and qualified personnel to make a pair of cutlery that will be used only once. On the other hand, you can take your own from home and wash them after lunch, which takes you about 5 minutes.
Reducing plastic consumption
Reducing your personal consumption of plastics is a task that requires dedication. If you really want to take them out of your life completely, you must make a lot of effort, since they are omnipresent in today’s world. Adopting a “zero waste” lifestyle is not realistic or attainable for most people because it involves making big changes, sometimes costly. However, there are many actions that are easy to do and available to everyone, they only require a little bit of organization and goodwill. For example:
- Bring your own reusable shopping bags.
- Take a reusable water bottle with you on the go.
- Prepare your own coffee at home and the office or ask for a re-usable cup to be filled at your favorite coffee shop
- Change your next toothbrush for a biodegradable bamboo toothbrush.
- Replace your disposable razor with an electric razor or a reusable one.
- Use brushes or sponges made of natural fibers to wash the dishes.
- Change your plastic bath sponge for a Luffa or a sea sponge.
- Change to a menstrual cup.
- Say no to the straw when you buy a drink in your favorite restaurant or bring your own reusable one.
- Prefer paper, glass or cardboard over plastic packaging when making your purchases.