Are you sitting down? Because I’m about to hit you with some stone cold facts. Ready? OK:
- By 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean (by weight) than fish
- There are over 5 trillion pieces of plastic in the ocean
- 79% of the plastic waste that humans have created has ended up in landfill or in the natural environment
- A tiny 9% of all the plastic waste we’ve ever created has been recycled
- Around the world we buy a million plastic bottles every minute
- We make and use twenty times more plastic now than we did 50 years ago
- One year’s worth of unrecycled bottles from the UK would stretch around the world 31 times
Wait, that sounds scary
It’s a lot to take in and it definitely sounds serious but it might give you an idea of why so many people are talking about plastic right now. Facts like that have people worried. We spent so many years using plastic products without a care in the world that when we’re faced with the damage it turns out they’ve been doing all this time, we feel responsible. That’s not a bad thing because it’s giving people a kick start to make changes.
Where does it all go?
The thing with plastic is that it doesn’t break down in the same way that something natural like vegetables or wood does. Natural materials will decompose over time and eventually give all their lovely nutrients back to the world. Plastic doesn’t do that. Instead it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces.
So it never goes away?
Well, sort of. When plastic is sent to landfill, it doesn’t do a lot because the conditions aren’t ideal for anything to break down, let alone plastic. But when plastic finds its way to the oceans, it can break down really quickly. Things like bottles and bags break down into smaller and smaller pieces, sometimes so small we can’t even see them. That’s what we call microplastics.
Is it harmful?
Sadly, yes. Animals like turtles and seabirds often mistake plastic for what they usually eat and it can be fatal because it blocks their digestive system. Sharp objects like old plastic cutlery can be very dangerous when they’re eaten too. As well as this, animals can easily get trapped in plastic bags and nets. And those microplastics I mentioned before? Scientists think that they can be toxic.
Can I do anything to help?
YES! You can start by using less plastic and here’s how:
Stop buying drinks in plastic bottles. Buy a reusable, stainless steel bottle (there are LOADS of cool ones out there) and take it out with you instead. If you ever forget it and you’re ultra thirsty, opt for a recyclable can.
Buy a reusable coffee cup. Those plastic lids really add up and, even though they look like paper, the cups are often mixed with plastic too to stop them leaking. Reusable cups are way more eco-friendly and loads of places will even give you a discount for using one!
Ditch plastic straws. In America alone they use over 500 million plastic straws a day (a day!) so ask for no straw when you order a drink. If you reallllly love straws, you can buy metal reusable ones.
Stock up on tote bags. We use up to a trillion plastic bags each year but together we can change that. Go prepared with your own bags and always say no when you’re offered a plastic one.
Try a bamboo toothbrush. Instead of chucking out a plastic toothbrush a few times a year, get a natural, sustainable bamboo one.
Can I do anything else?
Big fat yes. How about getting your school or family involved? Try these ideas to get others in on the act:
Do a 2 minute beach clean-up. The #2minutebeachcleanup movement started in 2014 and it’s getting increasingly popular as more and more people start to care about plastic pollution. And yes, it’s as simple as it sounds! Next time you take a family trip to the beach, spend 2 minutes filling your tote with plastic that’s been left on the beach. When you’ve finished, pop it in the recycling (or the bin if it’s not recyclable *sad face*) and be proud that you’ve stopped it being washed out to sea.
Take on the school cafeteria. Do they use plastic cutlery, plastic food containers or straws? Round up a group and send a letter to the head teacher. You can even borrow the facts from the beginning of this article to make them listen if you like.
Ask for soap. Get your family to quit their hand wash habit and switch to packaging free soap instead.
Take a trip to the market. Forget fruit and veg wrapped in unnecessary plastic, see if you can get your family to go to a grocers or a market and buy it loose.
Start a recycling campaign. No recycling bins at your school? You might want to add it to that letter I mentioned…
Plastic pollution sounds big and really serious doesn’t it? Well, it is. But don’t let that make you feel like it’s too much of a problem to face. You can make a real difference just by changing the tiniest of things. Once you start to do it others will follow, so why not be the one to lead the way?
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