Take the October Challenge
Single-use plastics are one of the biggest environmental issues facing our planet right now. Single-use plastics, as the name implies, are plastics that are used only once before being discarded and include bottles, straws, takeout containers, utensils, bags and styrofoam (and accounts for roughly 40% of our plastics usage). The problem 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.
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.
For the next two months, the Green Team is going to focus on ways you can reduce (or even eliminate) the single-use plastics in your life. This month, we are going to talk about alternatives to plastic bottles, straws, utensils and styrofoam and why we need them.
The Stats on Plastic:
1. While it is unknown how many plastic straws are used globally every day, the statistic is undoubtedly higher than it should be, especially when there are so many great alternatives!! Not only are plastic straws not recyclable or biodegradable (meaning they don’t break down), they are also a threat to animals when they are swallowed.
How you can help….
When you go out to eat, skip the straw!! Tell your server ‘No, thank you’ when they bring straws to your table (and tell your server why you are skipping the straw). Or if you order through the drive-through, tell them ‘no straw please” when you order your food (and check your bag before you leave, ‘cause they always seem to sneak them in there anyway).
Purchase a straw that you can bring with you! Alternatives to plastic straws include stainless steel, glass and paper and come in a variety of sizes, shapes and colors. In addition, there are some that are portable enough to be carried on your keychain so you always have one with you!! Search online (Amazon has some great ones) or at one of your local retailers for your options.
2. As mentioned above, we as a planet purchase nearly 1 million plastic bottles EVERY MINUTE (and only 10% of those bottles are recycled). While not all of these plastic bottles contain water, a significant number of them do and America’s obsession with bottled water has continued to increase every year. There are, of course, instances when bottled water is the safest option but for the rest of us, using a reusable aluminum or glass water bottle is a perfect alternative to a plastic single-use water bottle. Not only is bottled water more expensive than water from the tap, it can be catastrophic to the environment. Bottle production includes crude oil byproducts and takes 1.39 liters of water just to make the 1 liter bottle (hmmm….something seems off here). When you participate in January’s Going Green Challenge, you will learn how precious water is and how important it is that we conserve it whenever possible, so using more water to create the bottle than the water inside it doesn’t seem like a good “water conserving” choice, does it?
How you can help:
Purchase a reusable stainless steel or glass water bottle that you can use over and over!! Yes, it takes a little more energy to fill your water bottle before you leave the house (versus grabbling a plastic bottle from the fridge) but when you consider the environmental consequences of your plastic bottle, it’s an easy choice to make. If you don’t like the way tap water tastes, there are filters and purifiers to help with that too!
Bring your own reusable water bottle to school every day! The Green Team estimated that Carrollwood Elementary uses 1,000 plastic cups for water in the cafeteria every month. Just imagine how much we could help the planet if we just bought our own water bottles to lunch.
3. While not quite as common as bottles and straws, plastic silverware and styrofoam containers are also single-use plastics that are contributing to the environmental plastic disaster. We use them for picnics and parties and when we order take-out from a restaurant. We use them in the lunchroom at school or work. And like all of the other single-use plastics mentioned above, they will be on this planet for several hundred years. They can’t be recycled and they don’t biodegrade, or break down, easily.
How can you help:
Use actual silverware for your picnic or party (instead of plastic stuff). If you don’t want to use your nice utensils from home, purchase an inexpensive set that you use for “to-go” moments. Or just wash your plastic silverware after your picnic/party and reuse it.
Another way to help is to create your own travel kit of reusable utensils. Toss a fork, spoon and stainless steel straw in a pouch and put it in your backpack, purse or briefcase. After using it, wash it and return it to your bag.
While avoiding styrofoam containers from restaurant take-out is tricky, you can bring your own plastic containers for your leftovers and have your server put your food in those instead of the styrofoam they typically use!
Once you start to pay attention to how much single-use plastic you are using on a daily basis, you may find yourself surprised at how dependent you and your family have become on it. But don’t worry!!!! You will just as easily find that there are countless ways to avoid single-use plastics that are easy to do. To get started, choose one single-use plastic item (straw, bottle, utensils, styrofoam) that you would like to replace and start there. Continue adding ways to make your life “plastic-free” every week! It’s time to choose….Planet or Plastic??