We all recognize that plastic (single-use plastic especially) is a danger to our planet. But how big of a danger is it? Can the single plastic straw you got in your to-go cup threaten our environment? What about the disposable water bottle you bought at a theme park? Did you dispose of it properly in recycling, trash, or compost? Or, more importantly, what happened to it after you did?
How much impact does your one item have on people, the community you live in and the planet?
There are multiple ways that plastic waste negatively affects our planet. And it starts from before the plastic is even made. Just putting in an oil well disturbs and destroys the environment around it. On land, the area must be cleared of vegetation. In marine ecosystems, the seismic techniques utilized disturb fish and destroy seafloor habitats. New technologies are helping to reduce these effects, however, there are better ways to produce materials that function like plastic (ie, bioplastics). When fracking is used rather than traditional oil wells, there is the potential for the toxic chemicals that are used to help extract oil from tight geological formations to leach into groundwater supplies.
And let’s not forget the risk and damage of an oil spill. The Persian Gulf Spill of 1991, BP’s Deep Horizon in 2010, Mexico’s Intox 1 Spill back in the late 1970’s. These environmental disasters spewed millions of gallons of oil into marine and terrestrial ecosystems, destroying habitats and killing a ridiculous amount of wildlife. These top 3 spills alone spilled over 700 million gallons into marine ecosystems. Ask yourself, what is the real cost of that a plastic straw in your cup or plastic bag at the grocery store?
The single-use plastic you use today will still be here after five of your life times.
Not only are petroleum-based plastics dangerous at their beginning of life, they’re dangerous at their end of life as well. Why? Because plastics were originally developed to be used for long-term products like Tupperware, not things that are used once and tossed like straws. But the material was so cheap and easy to produce that we began using it for everything (and I mean literally everything). This means that we made products that will be used for 5-10 minutes out of a material built to last hundreds of years.
Yes, plastic is cheap and convenient, but is it worth having that straw, bottle, or bag, stick around on Earth for 500 years? Even when plastic waste is properly disposed of in recycling, you can’t recycle plastic indefinitely. At some point or another, it’s going to end up in landfills or littered in the environment. Current predictions say that if we continue on our current path, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050. Plastic waste in the environment endangers wildlife in multiple ways. Plastic waste in landfills takes hundreds of years to break down, and even then it leaves behind dangerous chemicals and microplastics. In fact, those microplastics that end up on our oceans are eaten by fish, which in turn, can end up on your plate!
Realistically, your one straw or bottle obviously isn’t a huge volume of plastic. But your actions have a ripple effect in your life that you may not even realize. It takes just one person to spur change in a lot of people’s lives. Take our marketing coordinator Alison for example. Whenever her family would go to the beach in the summer, they’d buy case after case of disposable bottles to take with them (the town water in their beach town wasn’t that great). One summer, she bought 2 Brita filters, and told her mom they weren’t buying any cases of disposable bottles that summer. Now, not everyone in her family was super happy with the change. Her grandpa still brought his case of disposable bottles. But overall that summer, they probably saved close to 200 bottles from being disposed of (they didn’t have recycling in their town, so the bottles were always thrown in the trash). A single person can make a difference. And, like the ripples in a pond, reach the people around them and in their community. So switch to that reusable Starbucks coffee cup. You never know which of your coworkers might think it’s cool and make the switch too.
We all have the ability to make a difference to our planet. If we keep saying, “well that’s another generation’s problem not mine,” we’ll end up drowning our kids, grandkids, and every generation after that in a sea of plastic waste. There will be fewer species on this planet for them to see, fewer beautiful natural places for them to visit. Just because the problem hasn’t reached a peak yet, doesn’t mean you don’t try to solve it now. You don’t wait until your pet is on their deathbed to go to the vet, you go as soon as you realize there’s something wrong. Our planet is the same way. If we wait until we’re drowning in plastic waste, it will be too late. The problem is here now, and it’s on us to make changes to make a difference.