World Environment Day and World Oceans Day, 2018

For World Environment Day (June 5) and World Oceans Day (June 8), we are encouraging people to refuse and reduce single-use plastics!

Only 9% of plastics are recycled, and less than 1% of plastics are recycled more than once (source). An estimated 8 million tons of plastic waste end up in the ocean yearly, harming marine life, causing disease and health problems among humans, and creating giant garbage gyres throughout the globe. Read more about the effects of plastic pollution here, and read about what happens when plastic breaks down in the ocean here.

There are many things you can do to help solve this global issue. The best, most effective way to reduce plastic waste is to stop producing it in the first place! Refuse disposable plastics by finding reusable alternatives, and pressure manufacturers, retailers, and restaurants to do the same.

Grocery Bags

Image from APEUK

100 billion plastic bags are used every year by Americans alone, and each bag is only used for an average of 12 minutes before being discarded. Littered or wind-blown plastic bags kill an estimated 100,000 marine animals each year (source). A whale was recently found with 80 plastic bags in its stomach. The cause of death was starvation, due to the 17 pounds of plastic debris it had ingested.

The Good News:

Plastic grocery bags can easily be avoided by bringing your own reusable bags instead! Keep bags in your car, by your front door, in your purse, set a reminder alarm on your phone, or write yourself a note to help you remember them. You can even use reusable produce bags as well, to avoid bagging your loose fruits and veggies in plastic!

Plastic Bottles

Image from Coastal Care

Every minute, 1 million plastic bottles are used globally, and the average American uses approximately 315 plastic bottles each year. The recycling rate of plastic bottles in the United States is less than 30%, and only 7% of recycled plastic bottles are turned into new bottles (the remainder are downcycled into things like carpet backing and fleece jackets, which later become trash) (source).

The Good News:

In most United States cities, tap water is just as clean and safe as bottled water (if not safer). Carry around a reusable water bottle to ensure you are never thirsty when on-the-go! Insulated water bottles are great, because they can double for hot beverages as well. Next time you are on a coffee run, try bringing your own bottle or to-go mug, instead of using a disposable coffee cup – which are not recyclable because they are lined with plastic.

Straws

Plastic straw stuck in sea turtle’s nose. Image from The Telegraph News

According to the National Park Service, Americans use 500 million plastic straws per day (about 1.6 straws per person every day). Plastic straws are not recyclable, because they are too small for the machinery at recycling sorting facilities. Because they are so small and lightweight, straws that are dropped or littered are easily carried by wind or streams into the ocean. Plastic straws in the ocean pose a threat to marine animals that mistake them for food, accidentally ingest them, or get entangled by them.

The Good News:

In most cases, straws are completely avoidable. Ask for “No straw, please” when ordering drinks in a restaurant or bar. For people who need straws for medical purposes (or people who can’t kick the straw habit), try a reusable glass, bamboo, metal, or silicone straw!

Plastic Silverware

Image from Philippine Beaches

The Ocean Conservancy found that plastic utensils are among the most deadly types of debris found in the ocean – second only to fishing gear. Forks, knives, and spoons break up into small, sharp pieces which marine animals mistake for food. These plastic bits are physically harmful to ocean life, and also cause animals that eat them to feel full while not getting any nutrition.

The Good News:

Reusable utensils are an easy replacement! Carry a metal or bamboo spoon in your purse, bag, or car, and ask for no utensils when getting food on-the-go or purchasing takeout.

 

 

 

Balloons

Image from Balloons Blow

Balloons are number three on the Ocean Conservancy’s Deadliest Ocean Trash list. Released balloons can travel for miles, then eventually return to the Earth either on land or in the ocean. Balloons not only kill marine animals such as dolphins, whales, and turtles; balloons can also be fatal to land animals like cows, dogs, sheep, tortoises, and birds. When swallowed, balloons block the animal’s digestive tract, preventing them from taking in nutrients. Strings and ribbons from balloons can entangle or strangle animals, as well. Even so-called “biodegradable” balloons take years to break down, thus posing a major threat to aquatic and terrestrial animals alike.

The Good News:

Try replacing balloons with reusable flags, banners, and streamers. Find more ideas for alternatives here. If you must use balloons, make sure to pop them and dispose of them properly in the trash rather than releasing them into the environment.

Microfibers

Image from KQED

Microfibers are small bits of synthetic fabric (such as polyester, nylon, spandex, etc. – all made from plastic) that are released from the production, washing, and disposal of clothing and textiles. Agitated fabrics release microfibers into the water system, and most are too small for waste water treatment plants to catch. Thus, they end up in streams, which carry them into the ocean and contribute to marine plastic pollution. The Ocean Conservancy states, “microfibers have become one of the most commonly detected types of microplastic debris in water samples, found in headwater streams, rivers, soils, lakes, sediments, ocean water, the deep sea, arctic sea ice, seafood, table salt and most recently, public drinking water” (source).

The Good News:

Microfibers are typically only a problem with synthetic fibers – try to opt for natural fibers such as cotton, linen, and wool instead. Washing clothes less often and hang drying them can also reduce the release of microfibers. Or, you can invest in a washing machine lint filter, which have been found to be effective in catching microfibers. Read more tips on microfiber prevention here.