This month is Plastic Free July. This is the month to kick off a new commitment to decrease consumption of plastics. Eliminating all plastics from one’s life is impossible. But eliminating a few plastics completely will make a big difference for the environment. Plastics cause great harm regardless of how they are discarded. Knowing more information can help motivate us to give up the convenience we have all grown to expect and demand.
Plastics are man-made with natural gas using byproducts from the refining processes of crude oil and natural gas. Over nine billion tons of plastic have been manufactured since the 1950’s. Out of these, nine percent have been recycled and ninety-one percent have been incinerated, landfilled or have been dispersed throughout the environment as plastic waste.
Plastics do not decompose. They degrade. This means they never completely disappear from the environment. They just break into smaller and smaller pieces, called microplastics. These little bits are eaten and inhaled. Every bit of plastic that has ever been made is still around either in its original form or as microplastics.
Due to the inexpensive availability, plastics are used in clothing, packaging, furniture, dishes and many other products. Because they are so versatile, they are used in place of wood, glass and metals. Manufacturers continue to utilize products that cannot be recycled, composted and do not ever disappear from this earth – at no cost to themselves. The cost burden is carried by the consumer and by counties and cities that manage the waste. The ultimate burden is carried by the environment. Consumed by unsuspecting animals, plastics are deadly. Plastics can be found on every continent, within every body of water and even in the air.
When consumers refuse to purchase products that are not environmentally friendly, it encourages manufacturers to redesign their packaging. Think Dunkin’ Donuts, Starbucks, Pepsi, among others. Although packaging is better – it still needs improvement. Manufacturers must provide recyclable packaging and teach consumers how and where to recycle. They must also shoulder collection and disposal costs.
How to eliminate plastics? The best way is to choose to refuse. Refuse to use single-use plastics such as water or soda bottles, plastic flatware, Styrofoam clamshell to-go boxes, plastic cups, lids, bags, straws and trash bags.
Feel deprived? Choose to use: beverages in aluminum cans or glass bottles (be sure to recycle the containers), reusable straws made from stainless steel or bamboo, flatware made from bamboo or plant starch (which can then be composted), and take your own stainless-steel water bottle and to-go box for leftovers at restaurants. Buy cardboard/paper cups and plates instead of plastic and use trash bags made from plant starch.
Getting into a new habit takes commitment and a little planning in the beginning. That is why it is Plastic Free July! After a month, chances are high that you will never consider going back to using the materials that are so harmful for our earth. Make a difference! Encourage others to do likewise. Choose to refuse.