Have you ever felt overwhelmed by plastic pollution? If you follow any activists on social media you may have experienced eco-anxiety. That feeling that you can never do enough to make a difference? Don’t let that stop you from doing what you can. Acknowledge that you can’t do it all and strive for implementing the actions that are within your ability.
Ways to Stop Plastic Pollution
Plastic production has not slowed down in recent years in spite of the fact that the United Nations identified plastic pollution as one of the world’s biggest environmental challenges of modern times.
You may have heard about the great pacific garbage patch which covers an area of the North Pacific ocean twice the size of Texas, or three times the size of France. These pollutants swirling in the world’s oceans demonstrate the negative impact of plastic.
The promotion of mask-wearing during the pandemic also resulted in more plastic pollution. (1)
Unfortunately, around half of the pollution in our oceans is discarded fishing nets. In fact, dumped fishing gear is said to be the number one plastic pollutant in the ocean.
The effects of plastic on marine organisms and biodiversity are deadly. Suffocation, drowning, starving, death from ingesting; are a few of the effects of plastic on wildlife. Marine plastic takes up space inside a sea turtle’s stomach and results in starvation.
Climate Change and Plastic Pollution
A garbage truck’s worth of plastic is dumped into the ocean every minute. Plastic waste kills up to 1 million sea birds, 100,000 sea mammals, marine turtles, and countless fish each year. (2)
While plastics are beneficial because they are durable and affordable, the amount of plastic in our oceans and landfills is astounding. Over half of plastic produced is created to be used only one time. Disposable.
It’s not just the plastic that causes a problem, but also the additives such as colorants and stabilizers which contribute to marine pollution.
Plastic travels, and when you see it on the ground, just know that eventually, it will end up in the ocean. More than 300 million tons of plastic are produced every year. Sadly, around 8 million tons of it end up dumped in oceans and in the earth’s ecosystems.
According to epa.gov landfills received 27 million tons of plastic in 2018. According to National Geographic, a whopping 91% of plastic created will never be recycled. That’s right, we recycle only about 9% of the plastic we create. What’s even more distressing is that making plastic uses chemicals derived from oil, natural gas, and coal. These materials are NOT sustainable. They are dirty, non-renewable resources.
Ready to Reduce Plastic Waste
You can also download a copy of this list here.
- Avoid unnecessary plastic packaging in the produce aisle (opt for loose produce unpackaged)
- Seek out alternatives for plastic products, like wood, bamboo, paper
- Ditch plastic bags and opt for reusable bags when shopping
- Stop buying single-use plastic bags for food storage
- Say no to plastic straws (choose paper straws or reusable)
- Refuse water in plastic bottles, carry your own (and you don’t have to buy one, use a mason jar from peanut butter or marinara sauce if you can’t buy one.)
- Opt for food containers that are glass, paper, cardboard or metal (
- Replace your plastic toothbrush with bamboo or one with a metal handle and replaceable head
- Dive for fishing nets and other fishing gear to clean up marine litter
If you’re a certified diver, you can collect and report important data. Through Project AWARE’s Dive Against Debris, remove marine debris on your dive and report the results. Together we make the ocean safer for marine life, and more importantly, the information you report helps inform policy change. With your help, Project AWARE can use the information you report through Dive Against Debris to convince individuals, governments, and businesses to act against marine debris. Dive Against Debris
Recycling is not the answer
You may have noticed that "recycle" was not listed above. That's because recycling is not the answer to plastic pollution. Some would even say that it is not helping at all. Do I continue to recycle plastic? Yes. But first and foremost, I try to opt-out of plastic when possible. When plastic is truly the only option, I look for the most recyclable product or one made from recycled plastic. Lastly, when I do end up with plastic on my hands, I reuse it in any way I can.
The Guardian’s analysis of shipping records and US Census Bureau export data has found that America is still shipping more than 1m tons a year of its plastic waste overseas, much of it to places that are already virtually drowning in it. Where does your plastic go? Global investigation reveals America's dirty secret
Look at the effort and toll it takes to create plastic by examining its life cycle. The first step in making a plastic product is getting the raw material, which is crude oil or methane gas by either mining and drilling. Both have detrimental impacts on the land.
Fracking (fracturing for fossil extraction) has environmental impacts including toxic aerosol emissions, resource depletion, and more.
However, the earth isn't all that suffers from the plastics industry. A Harvard study took a look at the life cycle of coal and found a tremendous cost to public health. 4
Ingestion of tiny synthetic polymers, by filter feeders on the bottom of the ocean bed, pollutes the marine environment and works its way up the food chain.
Compare the inconvenience it takes to make, recycle, reuse and clean up plastic to the inconvenience of washing a cup, a bowl or spoon. Do we really need single-use cutlery? Is it really so inconvenient to wash a dish to save the planet?
Plastic Pollution Where You Least Suspect It
Another type of plastic pollution that might not be on your radar is microplastics and microfiber. Plastic debris enters the food chain because animals ingest them. Fish and other animals have been found to have tiny plastic particles inside their digestive tract.
These contaminants even end up in the foods you eat. Clothing made from plastic are:
- Spandex, Lycra, or other elastane
- Polyvinylchloride - Greenpeace has dubbed it “the most damaging plastic on the planet.” Sadly, it's the same stuff your shower curtain might be made of and it off-gases toxic fumes. Hazardous to human health as well as animal life.
- Polyurethane: Made from fossil fuels, this is a type of synthetic plastic often used to make Vegan Leather, also known as Pleather (plastic leather), and your Pleather Jacket or Handbag. Clothing can continue to off-gas even after you've worn it several times
How to reduce microfiber pollution in the world's oceans
Did you know that some clothing is made from recycled water bottles? While it seems like a good solution to a big problem, tons of plastic waste ends up in marine ecosystems and possibly in the food you eat. That's because smaller and smaller pieces of plastic break down into microplastic.
Studies have shown human ingestion of these small particles of plastic is occurring at an alarming rate.
Arctic gyres are swirling up clouds of microfiber even in the most remote locations. Microfiber and plastic have invaded every corner and deep recess of the globe.
Here are some tips to reduce microfiber and microplastic pollution.
- Start using a microfiber catcher.
- Wash similar fabrics together, for example washing jeans with other jeans instead of with softer materials for less friction
- Wash less often. Jeans and even other clothing don't necessarily need to be washed with every wear. Take a look, if it appears clean and doesn't smell bad, hang it up for another wear.
- Use quick wash or short wash cycles (some washers may have an eco-wash cycle) because longer cycles allow more microplastics to be released.
- Consider hand washing some items.
- When you use a dryer, clean the lint trap and put the lint into the trash as dryer lint does contain microfibers. Unfortunately, most freshwater microfiber pollution is from laundry lint. (3,4)
- Opt for natural renewable textiles when possible, when they break down, they're not harmful to marine life or marine animals.
- Avoid clothing and other products marked as "vegan" as they are almost always made from synthetic materials. A better solution is to look for brands that use natural fibers but are also marked as cruelty-free.
Overwhelmed by Plastic Pollution
China contributes the highest share of mismanaged plastic waste with around 28 percent of the global total, followed by 10 percent in Indonesia, 6 percent for both the Philippines and Vietnam. Other leading countries include Thailand (3.2 percent); Egypt (3 percent); Nigeria (2.7 percent) and South Africa (2 percent). Our World in Data
The waste management systems of many countries are already overwhelmed. Yet the volume of household trash is on the rise since Covid entered the equation. Disposable gloves and masks are entering the rivers and oceans en masse.
Mismanagement of personal protective equipment (PPE) during the COVID-19 pandemic, with a monthly estimated use of 129 billion face masks and 65 billion gloves globally, is resulting in widespread environmental contamination 5
We have become entirely dependant on single-use plastic with little thought for the world we're destroying. With the way things are going now, UNEP expects our oceans to contain more plastic than fish by the year 2050. UNEP
That's why it is so important to do everything we can to stop plastic pollution. Contact your government representatives and pledge to stop buying single-use plastic.
If we all work together, we can make a difference.
Individually, we are one drop. Together we are an ocean.
1 - https://www.un.org/en/un-chronicle/reducing-single-use-plastic-pollution-unified-approach
2 - https://seasave.org/plastic-pollution/
3 - Kapp KJ, Miller RZ (2020) Electric clothes dryers: An underestimated source of microfiber pollution. PLoS ONE 15(10): e0239165. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0239165
4 - Epstein, Paul R et al. “Full cost accounting for the life cycle of coal.” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences vol. 1219 (2011): 73-98. doi:10.1111/j.1749-6632.2010.05890.x
5 - COVID-19 Pandemic Repercussions on the Use and Management of PlasticsJoana C. Prata, Ana L.P. Silva, Tony R. Walker, Armando C. Duarte, and Teresa Rocha-SantosEnvironmental Science & Technology 2020 54 (13), 7760-7765DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.0c02178
6 - https://www.unep.org/interactive/beat-plastic-pollution/