New studies reveal that tiny plastic fibers are everywhere - not just in our oceans but in our soil and drinking water as well. Much of the plastic we use get broken down into increasingly smaller particles until they become microplastics. These tiny pieces of plastic have a large impact on many things including global health and the health of our environment. The plastics they are broken down from often house a variety of toxic, hormone-disrupting chemicals which have been shown to attract other pollutants as well. Dioxins, metals, and pesticides are not something you want to find in your drinking water and farming soil. But researchers are finding microplastics in just these places.
If we don't reevaluate our plastic consumption, by 2050 the oceans will contain more plastic than fish. And, from colossal swirls of debris in the ocean to plastics washing up on remote beaches, we can already see this happening. Since change starts with the individual, here are five tips to help you cut your use.
1. Go reusable
We used 50 billion plastic water bottles in the U.S. last year. We need to change this. Our national recycling rate for plastic is only 23%: that means that 38 billion of those plastic bottles didn't get recycled and will undoubtedly end up in oceans, landfills, and microplastics. From a personal health perspective, bottled water is actually less regulated than tap water. However, it’s more expensive because of the huge drain it puts on resources through collection, bottling, and shipping. So instead of picking up a single-use plastic bottle every time you need to meet the eight 8 oz a day requirement, invest in a reusable one. Not only are they better for the environment, they're generally larger than the average single-use plastic water bottle which means it's easier to stay hydrated. Hydro Flask, Swell, and Nalgene all offer great options for plenty of water on the go without the negative environmental impact. If the quality of your tap water is something you’re concerned about, water, invest in a water filter for unlimited fill-ups from the sink. Pro tip: check the fine print and make sure that the filter is good for a wide range of pollutants and not just a few.
2. Try beeswax wraps
Instead of reaching for single-use cling wrap or tin foil the next time you need to pack a sandwich, store leftovers, or put together a picnic, grab a pack of sustainable beeswax food wraps. They’re reusable, compostable and made from ingredients you can feel good about. Once you're done using a wrap, just wash it with gentle soap and cool water (hot water can melt it), and let it air-dry to use it again. With proper care and regular use, they'll last for up to a year. You can buy them or DIY your own.
3. Ban plastic bags from your life
In the U.S., we use around 100 billion plastic bags per year with each family using around 1,500 on average during that timeframe. However, only 1 percent of those single-use plastic bags are returned for recycling. That means that only 15 out of every 1,500 actually make it into recycling. The rest end up in landfills, in oceans and harming wildlife - 1 in 3 leatherback sea turtles has been found with plastic in its stomach. Make the move to permanently eliminate plastic bags from your life: carry reusable bags like this fun jute bag from Apolis, a canvas Land’s End one or a mesh bag for your runs to the store. Buy your produce loose - aka without a plastic bag. It has its own wrapping for a reason!
4. Smarter storage
Buying just one cup of coffee or tea in a disposable cup per day adds up to create around 23 pounds of waste per year. A study by Starbucks found that coffee drinkers who used reusable cups saved an estimated 674,000 pounds of waste. Whether you’re picking up a beverage at the local cafe or shopping for food in bulk, come with your own way to carry it. You can’t go wrong investing in a 6-pack of large jars - good for anything from on-the-go iced coffee to storing your grains, pasta, nuts. You can even use them to store meat.
5. Quit plastic straws
We use over 500 million plastic straws a day in the U.S. and most of them end up in landfills and oceans. Straws are extremely harmful to marine creatures yet are consistently among the top ten items found during beach cleanups. Some places are looking to either limit their use or eliminate them entirely: Seattle is in talks to ban them and California wants to impose an opt-in law where straws are only provided if asked for by customers. Some people advocate for compostable straws as an alternative but since they’re designed to break down in a compost facility, not sea water, they’re no better when they get into a marine environment. If you need straws in your life, purchase reusable ones instead and bring one with you when you go out to eat or to coffee.
For more ways to go plastic-free check out this article from My Plastic Free Life.