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Welcome to Part 2 of ‘Planet or Plastic?’ Last month, we learned why single-use plastics (plastics that are used only once before being discarded) are so destructive to the planet. One of the biggest problems with single-use plastics is that most of them cannot be recycled and will take hundreds of years to break down. Of the ones that can be recycled, fewer than 10% actually are. That’s why it is so important that we find alternatives to single-use plastics whenever we can, like reusable water bottles, straws and utensils (and if you want to learn more about them, read last month’s Going Green Tip).
Remember from last month, according to National Geographic:
1. More than 5 trillion pieces of plastic are already floating in our oceans.
2. 73% of the litter found on beaches worldwide is plastic (bottles and bottle caps, food wrappers, grocery bags, styrofoam containers)….where do you think all of this plastic ends up?? See #1 above….
3. Plastic production globally has increased exponentially from 2.3 million tons in 1950 to 162 million tons in 1993 to 448 million tons in 2015 (remember how much of this gets recycled?).
4. As of 2015, almost 7 billion tons of plastic waste had been generated. 21% of that plastic was either recycled or incinerated….the rest is filling up our landfills or oceans.
5. Globally, almost 1 million plastic bottles are sold EVERY MINUTE!!
6. Plastics have affected roughly 700 species of marine animals, either through ingestion (eating) or becoming tangled in it.
This month, we are going to be focusing on other types of single-use plastics and how you can reduce or even eliminate your dependence on them.
Plastic Bags are one of the biggest single-use plastic problems! They aren’t biodegradable (meaning they won’t break down over time into natural materials) or recyclable (in many cases). When they end up in the ocean, which they do (A LOT), they become food for unsuspecting animals that don’t recognize that the plastic bag isn’t a jellyfish. The plastic bag (and other plastic debris that may have been eaten) just sits in the animal’s stomach until it gets sick and needs our help to make it better. A sperm whale in Indonesia was found to have two flip-flops, 115 drinking cups, 25 plastic bags, and four plastic bottles in its stomach!!
Fortunately, there are some very easy ways to replace those evil plastic bags with something better for the planet…
Many of us use plastic sandwich bags every day and yet we don’t usually spend much time thinking about what happens to the bag that held our sandwich once we’ve thrown in into the garbage. Guess what?? Nothing happens to it! It doesn’t get recycled (because it can’t). It doesn’t break down, or biodegrade, because it can’t. It spends the next several hundred years in a landfill (if we’re lucky) or in the ocean (if we’re not), waiting to slowly fall apart. And it is estimated that the average person uses 540 plastic sandwich bags per year. That’s a lot of bags!!
Here’s how to help:
1. Use a plastic reusable container to store your sandwich or chips. Not only is it reusable, but your chips and sandwich won’t get squished if someone accidentally steps on your lunch box!!
2. Use reusable cloth sandwich bags! They’re washable (and cheaper than having to purchase plastic baggies for your lunch every week) AND you can find them online and locally (at places like Target or Walmart).
3. If you have to use a plastic baggie, wash it (if possible) and reuse it for something else.
Those aren’t the only kind of plastic bags causing problems on our planet today, though. Plastic grocery bags are another huge issue and globally, we use 2 million plastic bags every minute!! Again, there are some very easy ways to solve this problem!
Here’s how to help:
1. Bring reusable grocery bags when you go shopping (you may have to remind mom and dad in the beginning until they remember on their own!). They’re inexpensive and can be used for years and years!!
2. If you forget your bags and have to get plastic ones at the store (we’ve all been there), reuse them for something else OR return them to the store and RECYCLE them!! If they have the green recycle symbol with a ‘2’ in the middle, they can often be recycled at the store (just don’t put them in your bin at home!!). Publix has large green bins outside their stores for plastic grocery bag recycling.
3. Say ‘No Thanks’ to the plastic bag at the department store if you can carry your purchases out easily without losing anything (or bring your own resuable shopping bag….you can buy these almost anywhere). Most stores are grateful since you’re saving them money too!
As always, start small by replacing one thing at a time and just keep adding to it. Before long, you’ll find that you don’t need plastic bags nearly as much as you thought you did, and the planet will be a lot healthier because of you!! Go Green!!