Every now and then I’ll feel overwhelmed by the amount of waste humans create. I often find it difficult to separate my understanding of the situation our world is facing, from how sad it makes me to know it could be prevented. Since I want to use this knowledge and passion to fix problems, I have to walk a fine line between being unbearably pro-environment and being in denial about our circumstances. I cannot expect everyone to care about this topic nearly as much as I do, but I can translate my concerns into simple steps toward sustainability.
This outlook is what has made me start thinking about basic actions I take without a second thought and writing about them on this blog. I also recently had a run-in with an unfortunate amount of refuse (a mix of plastics, cans, and food) I had to find a way to dispose of. During this dismal escapade, I became acutely aware of the challenges that came along with properly doing this due to the recycling infrastructure near me as well as a general perspective of “trash”* held by people around me. For this week’s topic, I will briefly summarize the dangers of single-use plastics, which we began relying on in the mid- to late-20th century in conjunction with the rise of our insatiable consumerism.
“Single-use plastic” is a term used to describe any plastic created for the sole purpose of using once and then being thrown away or recycled. These are commonly seen in the food in industry, ranging from plastic forks to the saran wrap around pre-cut vegetables, and also in other areas of day-to-day life like tape on your online shopping shipment. Plastic is so integrated into our lives that we don’t notice it (or, I didn’t) until someone points it out to us. For example, the objects pictured below.
According to the “Plastic Free Challenge” website, humans produce 300 million tons of plastic a year with half of it created for a single use. What’s worse about plastic, that makes it so different from other single-use containers made from metal or glass, is that it is not biodegradable. This means that it will never break down naturally like other materials do, but is capable of breaking into smaller and smaller particles of plastic over time wherever it is located. As it does this, it releases hazardous chemicals into the environment that were initially included when it was first created.
It would be nice to say that the best alternative to this overwhelming plastic problem is to encourage more recycling. Unfortunately, most plastics cannot be recycled–the little recycle sign on your to-go container does not mean it is recyclable, but instead identifies what kind of plastic it is. This reality is due to a lack of advanced recycling technology as well as the fact that not all plastics are a good enough quality to be used again. Plastic has its place in our world today, just like anything else, but it has been used to an extent beyond what is healthy for us or the environment–it’s time for this to change.
I probably know as well as anyone else does that changing a habit or creating a new one is not an easy task. I can’t shame you for not adopting this lifestyle, especially since it is fairly revolutionary and against the status quo, but I do know this is the direction we are moving in. What I am requesting is no longer a prompt for humanity to recycle, but to do more and be conscientious of the choices and actions they make. For those who want to be conscious consumers and to feel like they are contributing to the betterment of mankind, there is one basic goal you can make to get started.
DITCH THE SINGLE-USE PLASTIC
This is an overwhelming task that I can’t even say I’ve mastered. However, once you notice how much plastic there is around you at all moments of the day, it becomes incredibly simple to opt out of it here and there. Say no to plastic straws, grab a soda from a can instead of a bottle, and bring a reusable mug next time you go to the coffee shop.
My next blog will provide more examples of alternatives to these unnecessary items that litter our homes, lives and the planet. Like so many say, the first step is to recognize and admit there is a problem. So, I implore you to take a second look at what you use each day and question whether or not it may be doing more harm than good. Then, take action.
*I’m attempting to change the way I talk about resources and avoid calling anything trash due to its potential value in one way or another. It is not benefiting anyone if we continue to place objects in dumpsters and accept that the “garbage” is not longer our problem because, one day, it will be all of our problems.