Plastic is everywhere and in everything; from the bottles in our fridges to the shoes on our feet, it seems to dominate all areas of our lives. This is particularly true for single-use plastic, like the straws and bags that we throw away after using them only once. As it turns out, a staggering 50% of all plastic produced is single-use. While many may appreciate the convenience of plastic, more and more people are becoming aware of the hefty consequences of our reliance on plastic.
Unfortunately, even when plastic material is recyclable, it will most likely end up in a landfill anyway – Canada has a plastic recycling rate of only 9%! To make matters worse, petroleum-based plastics do not truly break down. Rather, they degrade into smaller and smaller pieces. Although plastics have only been around for a hundred years, 6.3 billion tonnes of plastic had already been created and thrown away by 2015.
Although many of us don’t see the consequences of humanity’s “plastic addiction” first-hand, they are impossible to miss when we look at the environment. One of the biggest victims of plastic is wildlife. As of today, it is estimated that 60% of all sea birds have ingested plastic. In fact, many of these birds die with stomachs that are filled with plastic. Sea birds are by no means the only victims; we’ve all seen the sad videos and stories of turtles choking on plastic, or seals getting entangled in plastic debris. It is estimated that over 100 million marine animals die from plastic engagement alone, primarily from consuming it. This issue also affects land animals, as well.
There is also the more insidious problem of micro-plastics. Micro-plastics are bits of broken-down plastic that are invisible to the naked eye. In the past years, they have become extremely prevalent; we can find them in water, soil, and even in the very air we breathe. To put their prevalence in context, on average, a human will eat 40 pounds of plastic (mostly microplastics) in their lifetime. We know that micro-plastics do pose a health risk for animals, but their effects on human health are not yet known.
If you’re looking for ways that you can help address humanity’s plastic problem, check out these tips below:
- Avoid glitter, and other products made of tiny plastics. While some products that contain micro-plastics may be easy to spot and avoid, this is not the case for all micro-plastic products. For example, many skincare and other cosmetic products contain micro-beads, a specific type of micro-plastic. While some products will say micro-bead free, many labels will not specify this One way to check if a product has microbeads is to look at the ingredient list. Here is a list of ingredients that contain microbeads that you can use to check your products!
- Go zero-waste. Following zero-waste practices can drastically reduce your plastic consumption. Check for local zero waste stores in your area – these stores allow you to bring your own containers to fill up on items. You can also buy from bulk stores that have “bring your own container” programs.
- Reduce single-use plastics. Many single-use products like coffee pods, Ziploc bags, grocery bags, and others have reusable counterparts. A simple google search for a reusable version of a single-use product will likely bear results. To learn about reusable counterparts and get started, click here.
- For more ways you can help, visit https://news.climate.columbia.edu/2018/05/11/can-fight-plastic-pollution/.
These are all just a few simple things you can do to help reduce your contribution to plastic pollution. To learn more about plastic pollution, click here.