So sorry I’ve been so late posting about this, especially since it’s one of my favorite topics in the sustainability world, but I’ve been overwhelmed in the past week by some personal stuff. Better late than never, back to the amazing Plastic Free July campaign and why you’d be making a considerable positive contribution to the planet’s health by getting involved in it.
A plastic world
We’ve become so used to plastic. It’s everywhere. From the single use plastic bag at the supermarket, to packaging of pretty much everything to that straw that now inevitably comes with your drink and even when you would not suspect it such as in your cosmetic products and sometimes garments, it’s now over 322 million metric tons of plastic that were produced in 2015. That’s a 64 250% increase from 1950. Yep you read correctly 64 250% more plastic is produced nowadays than in the 50’s. But that wouldn’t actually be a problem is the afterlife of plastic products wasn’t so complicated to handle.
Here are the main issues caused by plastic:
- Most plastic is made from fossile fuels like oil and natural gas
- During the production, industries emit large amount of carbon monoxide, dioxin and hydrogen cyanide which are highly pollutants and can cause respiratory diseases, nervous system disorders and immune suppresion
- When burnt, plastic releases hazardous chemicals into the atmosphere
- A single plastic bag can take up to 1000 years to degrade in a landfill
- Plastic bags are blamed for the annual death of more than 1 million bird and 100,000 marine animals as animals either get entangled in them or mistake them as food and may choke, be poisoned and eventually starve
- Enough plastic is thrown away each year to circle the Earth four times
- Scientists predict that in 2050, there will me more plastic than fish in the ocean
- At the moment, there is some much garbage into the ocean including plastic that three islands have formed around the world with the biggest being the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, in central North Pacific which is larger than the state of Texas and gathers hundred of thousands of pieces of plastic per square meter
- A lot of the plastic that enters the oceans has been contaminated by toxins. They are then ingested by fish and eventually by humans. If you’re interested in toxins, plastic and the ocean, here’s a great piece by Nat Geo.
- Same goes with micro beads, plastic particules of under 5 mm ni length. Once ingested by humans through fish, the UN fears that “the presnece of microplastic on foodstuffs could potentially increase direct exposure of plastic-associated chemicals to humans and may present an attributable risk to human health”. Moreover, microbeads could also be breathed by people with noxious effects on lungs notably. And that is especially the case in East Asia for instance, where plastic pollution Is the highest.
Because processing all these information and acting on the issue can seem a bit overwhelming sometimes, The Western Metropolitan Regional Council in Western Australia and Rebecca Prince-Ruiz, a Churchill Fellow (grant towards the investigation of programs for solutions to plastic pollution), created the Plastic Free July Campaign. The aim of the campaign is to raise awareness on the amount of plastic used each year and encourage people to eliminate the use of single-use plastic during each July.
By doing so, participants are taking a first step towards reducing their plastic consumption with an act that is feasible and less life changing than cutting plastic completely while still having a considerable impact. Indeed, most of the plastic waste found in the ocean comes from single use plastic items. As such, the campaign encourages new and hopefully lasting habits among its participants and opens the door to a real wake up call on the damaging impacts of plastic consumption on the environment.
While first beginning in Perth, Western Australia in 2011 with a few dozens participants, the challenge has spread around the world and gathered more than a million people In 2016. Let’s hope 2017 will be even bigger!
Want to go further?
If you’re already there or have finished Plastic Free July and want to take your commitment a step further, here are a few things you can do to drastically reduce your plastic consumption:
- Say NO. Beyond bringing your own reusable bag and cutlery, start saying no to situations where you know plastic will be involved. That is: specify you don't want a straw with your drink or disposable cutlery with your lunch salad. People will look at you a bit funny at first, but you'll get used to it and you'll be saving plenty of waste from entering landfills and oceans!
- Buy in bulk. In Europe, many shops are opening that offer the possibility to either bring your own container or buy some on the spot, enabling to shop zero waste. You pay exactly the weight you're buying minus the weight of the container so it's actually most of the time cheaper than buying in regular supermarkets!
- Start making stuff. That's definitely a major step so no worries if you're not there yet. But yeah, most of the plastic we consume exists because we're buying stuff instead of making it ourselves. This includes food, so ditch that premade salad from the supermarket once in a while, make it yourself and bring it to work ;) it will be all the more delicious! But it also includes cosmetics, cleaning products and pretty much everything we use in our daily life. My personal bible for a zero waste lifestyle (though I'm definitely not there yet) is Lauren Singer's blog: Trash is for Tossers (and if you're in NYC, she recently opened the first zero waste shop i the city!)
- Quit fish. Often referred to as "ghost gear" and thought to make up around 10% of marine litter worldwide, abandoned fishing gear is a massive threat to marine animals. Either lost during storms or abandoned deliberately, those lost nets can cause entanglement and eventually death for the animals who can't swim and feed anymore. If you're thinking what does my tuna consumption have to do with this, stay put. Sea food consumption being on the rise around the world, those incidents are happening more than ever and reducing fish consumption would mean less fishing, often by illegal boats that do not abide by national legislation, therefore significantly reducing the amount of discarded nets found around the world.
- And more. You can find other zero waste initiatives (and please, don't be frightened by the zero in zero waste, it's hardly ever zero, even if you're hardcore committed) on Lauren Singer's blog: Trash if for Tossers, Bea Johnson's website (the mother fits one year worth of waste into one jar) or outlets such as Mindbody Green and One Green Planet.
educing plastic is actually more easy than we think, but the first step is being aware of how much we consume!