Every day about 8 million pieces of plastic end up in the oceans.
That’s 3 billion pieces a year.
Plastic is a significant contributor to global pollution. When you start paying attention, you really begin to realize how much plastic surrounds your daily existence. Try spending just one day where you don’t touch plastic. Then try not purchasing anything containing plastic for a week. Plastic has created a global crisis mainly because it will never disappear—the plastic we consume is here forever.
As plastic is part of our everyday life, we should understand it.
Here’s a few fast facts to get you started:
- All plastics are polymers
- Polymers are created when small molecules, also known as monomers, combine chemically to form a larger network of connected molecules. Natural polymers include wool, protein, cotton, and DNA.
- The first partially synthetic polymer was invented in 1869 by John Wesley Hyatt, who was was searching for a substitute for ivory to help prevent elephant poaching. This polymer used cellulose derived from cotton.
- Plastic is a specific type of polymer. Plastics are synthetic and do not occur naturally. In 1907 Leo Baekeland invented Bakelite, the first fully synthetic plastic, meaning it contained no molecules found in nature.
- Plastic is made from nonrenewable crude oil resources.
- Although petroleum was created through natural earth processes, a crucial manufacturing step when making plastic turns petroleum into a material unrecognized by the organisms that normally break down organic matter. Because plastic does not decompose, it can last for hundreds of years in landfills.
- 300 million tons of plastic is produced each year; 50% is single use
- Only 10% of plastic is recycled
Two years ago I made the conscious decision to examine when and where I was using plastic, and then how I could change my purchasing choices to more environmentally friendly options. Depending on where in the world you live, this can either be easy or a daunting and frustrating experience.
When I’m in California visiting my family, there are many choices and options available. San Diego prides itself on healthy living and eco friendly stores and options aren’t hard to find. Its hip and cool to be eco friendly in California so the social pressure is real. Once I flew back for a three week visit and stopped to buy groceries on the way home to my condo. I didn’t have reusable bags with me since I had come straight from the airport. When the check out employee asked if I had my own bags, I found myself apologizing and explaining that I was sorry but I had just arrived from the Middle East… I babbled on in pure guilt.
When I’m home in Saudi, however, I’m usually the only one bringing reusable bags to our local store. Finding eco-friendly packaging is much trickier than in Europe or the States. The majority of goods are imported and therefore packaged for transport. The Middle East is just awakening to the need to change consumer habits and the economy is not yet driven by ‘green’ choices. But I haven’t given up!
‘There is no more neutrality in the world. You either have to be part of the solution, or you’re going to be part of the problem.’
As I am choosing to be part of the solution, I’ve been exploring all my options for limiting my consumption of plastic. Here’s a few ideas that are easy to add to your life wherever you live in the world. Amazon links are affiliate links. There is no extra charge to the consumer.
Its ironic that a product designed to clean, is actually contributing to a huge part of the pollution problem. Plastic shampoo bottles, liquid hand soap, dish soap in plastic bottles all contribute significantly to plastic waste.
Hand Soap: Leave the liquid hand soap in plastic bottles on the shelve and purchase only bar soap packaged in paper.
Dish Soap: I recently discovered you can also purchase bar soap for dishes! Rub the sponge on the bar and then scrub your dishes as normal.
Shampoo: Ditch the liquid shampoo in a plastic bottle and switch to shampoo bars. I switched two years ago and I love them. They last forever and are super easy to take on trips as they aren’t a liquid. Throw a shampoo bar in your carry on bag and walk through security. Many companies are now selling shampoo bars. I buy mine from Lush as they have shops near me. Here’s an option available on Amazon with zero plastic packaging.
- Powdered laundry soap in a cardboard box is a more eco friendly option than liquid detergent in a plastic bottle. The cardboard box can go in a compost pile.
- Many laundry soap companies are working to beat back the plastic packaging. A Canadian company, TruEarth, manufactures ‘Eco-strips’, a concentrated laundry soap in condensed strips. My daughter and I have been testing them out and so far they work great. No more lugging home heavy bottles that take up a lot of space. These strips would also be fantastic for travel. You can easily put 3 or 4 strips in a bag or purse to do loads of laundry during your trip.
Consuming water is not a choice—the human body needs a regular infusion of water each day. But how you obtain water is your choice.
1 million plastic water bottles are purchased every minute. These water bottles will sit in a landfill for hundreds of years.
Reusable water bottles: Keep a reusable water bottle with you throughout the day. I have three bottles in different sizes to provide options for where I’m going and the size of the bag or purse I’m going to use.
Cardboard Packaging: Several companies are now packaging water in cardboard, similar to milk cartons. Cardboard is far more eco-friendly than plastic since it will actually decompose. One company producing boxed water is www.boxedwaterisbetter.com
The consumption of food is a great place to start lowering your plastic consumption.
Plates – Skip the plastic in favor of reusable plates (wash, dry, use again) or switch to paper plates that can be composted. Another great alternative are disposable plates made of bamboo or palm leaves. They are just as durable as plastic and easy to find on Amazon. They decompose in your family compost pile in six months.
Cutlery – Bring your own or provide reusable cutlery at gatherings. Wash it, dry it and put it back in the drawer. Sure its more work than throwing it away, but you’ll sleep better knowing you aren’t adding more plastic to a landfill. Need disposable? There is now disposable cutlery made of bamboo or wood that can all be composted. I used the wood cutlery at an event last year and it was a big hit with all my guests. Afterwards they all went in my compost pile, not to the landfill.
Straws – Stop using them, or switch to bamboo or steel straws that are reusable and travel with you. Lots of choices are available on Amazon. Plastic straws are deadly to animals in the wild which is why the San Diego Zoo banned them at all the zoo restaurants years ago. Choose between bamboo or metal. Bamboo is 100% compostable after extended use and won’t absorb the cold or heat of your drink. Metal would be easier to clean and last a lifetime, but won’t eventually compost and could absorb the temperature of the drink.
Grocery Bags – Bring your own reusable bags when shopping for food or other products. If you get caught without your own bags, ask for paper (which will decompose) over plastic if you have a choice. Bring your own mesh bags for vegetable purchases rather than using the plastic bags provided by the stores.
Eliminate plastic wrap in your kitchen by switiching to Bee’s Wrap. Bees Wrap is made by infusing cotton with bees wax and resin. These wraps can then be used to cover bowls, wrap around sandwiches, cover half an apple or onion, etc. After use, rinse it off with cool water (hot water will melt the wax), let it dry and use again and again. When it finally wears out after a year of use, just toss it into your compost pile. Zero waste! Here’s the affiliate link to the brand that I’ve been using based out of Vermont. I switched two years ago and I’ll never go back to plastic wrap.
A note about Covid-19: Regions of the world are handling Covid with various restrictions. For example, some areas of the US are not allowing customers to bring their own reusable shopping bags while other regions haven’t imposed this rule. Do your best with whatever rules have been imposed in your area. Limit plastic consumption when you can until we all get through this pandemic.
Please comment below with companies providing your local region with zero plastic options. The more locally we shop, the more we lower our carbon footprint!