Last week, the United Kingdom announced a plan to ban plastic straws, stirrers and plastic-stemmed cotton swabs. The proposed ban will reduce the plastic polluting the earth’s waters: 150 million tons of it that kills one million birds and over 100,000 sea mammals, which either eat the waste or get tangled in it. Kudos to the United Kingdom.
Banning straws is one tiny - and very necessary - step to curbing the problem of plastics pollution in our oceans and on our land. Everyone knows, in theory, that we should recycle the plastic we use but the first step should be to use less of the material. Opting for those fancy Yeti cups (or the cheaper and just as good ones) in lieu of plastic water bottles is a great way to curb your personal plastic footprint. Half of all the plastics produced go into single-use applications - like water bottles.
In the United States, the average person throws out 300 pounds of plastic packaging a year. According to Oceana.org, the world produced as much plastic in the last decade as it did in the entire 20th century and estimates for how much plastic winds up in the ocean range as high as 1.6 billion pounds annually, the same amount of Atlantic cod taken from the sea each year.
Marine plastic pollution is already one of the world’s major environmental problems and campaigners say it is expanding at a catastrophic rate. The World Economic Forum says if we carry on at the current pace there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans - in terms of weight - by 2050. And with 31 million tons of plastic waste generated in the US in 2010, we account for 12.4 percent of the total municipal solid waste out there. In 1960, plastics represented less than one percent of the waste stream in the United States.
Recently, an Englishman saved all of the plastics he purchased over the course of a year. He didn’t change his buying habits for the purpose of his project and he wound up with 4,490 items - a mountain of plastic (which is on display in a seaside town in Kent, England). Of the pile of plastic, 60 percent was food packaging - salad and vegetable wrappers and bread bags. Ninety-three percent was single-use plastic, and just eight items - mostly coffee lids - were made out of biodegradable material.
He told a reporter that “you get a really clear picture of what you’re consuming and you figure out that all this stuff was just designed for you to buy it.” He said the “black plastic of meat packaging is to hide the color of the blood and the brown plastic of mushroom packaging makes the mushrooms look earthy.”
In all of his collection, just 56 items were made from recycled material.
Recycling is vital, but what we really need to do is use less plastic. Like the kids at Harmony Elementary who are learning that “plastic is not fantastic,” adults should take notice of the amount of plastic we use in our daily lives and try and reduce it.
We can’t recycle our way out of the plastic pollution mess because we are using way too much and only eight percent of the total plastic waste generated in 2010 was recovered for recycling anyway. So the next time your waitress drops a plastic straw by your drink, do what your grandmother would have done - drink from the glass and don’t be so wasteful.