Plastic pollution in our oceans has reached the stage where microplastics – pieces smaller than 5 mm – outnumber the stars in our galaxy, and if present trends continue, the world’s oceans will contain more plastic than fish by 2050.
Every year, about 8 million tons of plastic waste are spilled into the oceans from coastal nations. That’s the equivalent of dumping five garbage bags full of trash on every metre of coastline around the world. A whopping 91% of plastics are never recycled. If we continue in this vein, there will be 12 billion metric tons of plastic in landfills by 2050 – that’s 35 000 times heavier than the Empire State Building in the US.
In 2018, an estimated 50 million tons of e-waste (electronic devices such as cell phones, computers and washing machines) were dumped worldwide, which the United Nations described as “a tsunami of e-waste”. Less than 20% of e-waste products are formally recycled, with 80% either ending up in landfill or being informally recycled – much of it by hand in developing countries, exposing workers to hazardous and carcinogenic substances such as mercury, lead and cadmium.
Small steps, big difference
- Refuse to accept, buy or use any single-use plastic items, including take-away coffee cups, shopping bags, straws, cutlery, water bottles, Styrofoam take-away containers, toothbrushes and single-use tea bags.
- Re-use – Invest in reusable items such as reusable grocery bags, biodegradable wheat or bamboo cutlery and containers, bamboo-handled toothbrushes with charcoal-treated bristles, metal straws, stainless steel flasks or travel mugs for water or coffee, beeswax wrap or airtight containers for leftovers or for storing food, a battery charger (so you don’t have to keep buying new batteries) and bamboo or stainless steel razors.
- Recycle – Recycling will not only save you a lot of money, but will cherish our planet for future generations.
- Make your own compost – Fruits, vegetables, dairy products, grains, bread, ground coffee beans, tea, eggshells, and even newspaper can be composted.
- Reduce your water consumption by setting up a water catchment system to collect rainwater and re-use the grey water from your shower, bath and kitchen to water your garden.
- Print on both sides – Keep a bin next to your printer for used paper that has only been printed on one side. When you have to buy paper, opt for post-consumer waste (PCW) recycled paper. Also say no to a printed slip next time you withdraw money at the ATM.
- There are many companies that recycle plastic and turn it into maintenance-free, environmentally friendly “plastic wood” furniture and even playgrounds for kids.
- Find out where your local recycling facilities are located, what they will recycle and how to sort your waste (e.g. separating plastics, glass and paper).
Food for thought
- Avoid buying frozen foods , since the packaging is mostly plastic. Rather buy fresh products at your local farmer’s market, and take your own recyclable bag along.
- Buy boxes instead of bottles. Products like laundry detergent often come in cardboard boxes, which can be more easily recycled. Remember to remove the plastic cap before you recycle the box.
- Purchase food like cereal, pasta, and rice from bulk bins by filling a reusable bag or container. You will save money and eliminate unnecessary packaging. You can also ask your butcher to pack your meat in your own reusable containers.
- Make your own cleaning products that will be less toxic and eliminate the need for multiple plastic bottles. Visit https://www.goodhousekeeping.com or https://keeperofthehome.org for some useful ideas.
A sticky situation
Chewing gum is made using polymers, which are synthetic plastics that do not biodegrade. Chewing gum is the second most common form of litter after cigarette butts. The amount of chewing gum we discard in a year adds up to 250 000 tons of waste; for example, clean-up crews who prepared for the 2012 London Olympics spent three months steam-cleaning a street of just 3 km long to remove 300 000 pieces of gum. Choose gum that is plant-based and biodegradable or chew parsley for a fresh breath.
As stewards of the environment, we are responsible for preserving and protecting our resources for ourselves and for future generations. Start making a difference today, even if you start small.Sources: