In the history of plastic, only 9% of the material has ever been recycled. Much of the remaining plastic that has been produced over the last 50 years still exists in our environment, waterways, and oceans. For our marine ecosystem, we are putting increased pressure on seabirds, turtles, dolphins, and whales, who mistake much of the smaller pollution for food and become entangled in larger debris like fishing lines and nets.
Turtles, in particular, are unable to distinguish a plastic carrier bag from their normal jellyfish diet. Once consumed, the indigestible plastic will cause entanglement in their gut, leading to blockages and death. Over time, larger pieces of debris also break down into what are called “micro-plastics,” which are consumed by smaller organisms in the marine ecosystems, increasing concentrations found in the bloodstream of animals higher up the food chain, including humans.With increasing frequency dolphins, sharks, and whales are washing up on our shores with stomachs filled with plastic from our everyday lives. The impact on our fisheries is still unprecedented, but a recent survey by Plymouth University found that plastic was found in a third of UK-caught fish, including cod, haddock, mackerel, and shellfish. This results in malnutrition and starvation for the fish, ultimately leading to plastic ingestion in humans.
So, what can we do right now to turn the tide on plastic? Over one million water bottles are sold every minute, of which less than 50% is collected for recycling. That’s nearly one billion bottles going into landfills and the environment every day.
Enter Edwin Broni-Mensah, founder of UK social enterprise Give Me Tap. Frustrated by the volume of plastic water bottles in circulation and the lack of restaurants and cafes offering free tap water refills, Edwin set out to shift the compass. Edwin not only sourced a supply of reusable metal water bottles and set up a network of cafes, bars, and restaurants that will offer bottle holders free refills, but every bottle sold provides clean drinking water to someone living in Africa for 5 years. To date, Give Me Tap bottle owners have funded clean drinking water for 24,000 people and reduced their collective plastic bottle count by 45 million bottles.In 2017, global production of plastic bags reached 275 billion plastic bags. As a planet, we use over 160,000 single-use plastic bags that then go to waste, landfills, and our oceans. The average person uses up to 700 bags every year, each taking up to 1000 years to degrade. Using a tote bag for your daily and weekly shop can not only immediately reduce your footprint but also support good causes, such as The Ocean Cleanup, which uses funds from tote bag sales to sponsor research and ocean plastic cleanup operations.
Since arriving in the 1960s, there are now over half a billion plastic straws used and thrown away every day in the US alone. The effect of plastic straws on marine ecosystems is well documented, but the irony is not lost as the ocean appeared to provide a solution in the form of Loliware. As co-Founder Chelsea Briganti didn’t want to tell people not to use straws, she instead found a way to give consumers a plastic-free alternative and have fun doing it. The seaweed-based plastic alternative is not only totally biodegradable but even edible. To add a bit of fun to their cool solution, Loliware has even been adding flavours and nutrients to their straws. So, you can now drink your mocha through a caramel straw with a clean conscience.
There are fantastic alternatives that enable us to drastically cut our plastic footprint with minimal effort. Shops now offer cardboard earbuds, bamboo toothbrushes, and beeswax alternatives to cling film, not to mention algae water pods and edible cutlery. With a little help, it looks like the tide is turning.
The Randall Carlson…
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