The growing plastic problem and causes of plastic pollution
Plastic is a common staple in our daily lives, and we haven’t figured out a way to dispose of it effectively. Unfortunately, 91% of all plastic is not recycled. There are many causes of plastic pollution, and we must do what we can to stop using it. Plastic takes 400 years to degrade, and most of it goes to landfills. What happens when we run of out space in landfills?
On an interesting note, plastic production really only started reaching staggering amounts in the last 70 years. Plastic started getting mass-produced in the 1950s, and to this day it is one of the most common packaging materials.
The production of plastic has increased due to many factors. It is cheap, durable, and see-through (that last part is important for food packaging, most people don’t want to buy meat they cannot see).
Production has also increased due to population increase. In 2015, the world produced 381 million tonnes of plastic just in one year. Comparing this to only 15 years ago in 2000, we were producing 213 million tonnes yearly. That is a 78% increase within just 15 years.
Let’s talk about some of the biggest plastic waste contributors, and how we can change some habits to reduce the amount of plastic.
Food should go without saying. When buying groceries, almost all food is packaged in plastic in some form. Condiment bottles, microwavable meals, milk jugs, freezer bags, trash bags, laundry detergent packaging and much much more are all made of plastic.
The demand for see-through and cheap food packaging is why plastic is the most used aside from aluminum, glass, and cardboard. This is possibly the largest use of single-use plastics and one of the big causes of plastic pollution.
How to mitigate
You can shop at a local bulk foods store. Many of these shops have sections where you bring your own container to fill with various bulk foods and other products such as rice, syrup, spices, peanut butter, and more. Sometimes they will have a meat counter where you can bring your own container as well.
If you don’t have or can’t find a local bulk foods store, you can attempt to only buy products that come in glass or aluminum packaging. If that isn’t an option, try to buy the item in bulk if it only comes in plastic packaging, and then recycle it when you’re done.
When going to the deli counter or meat section, either try to get it in bulk or ask if you can bring your own container. I will say that being vegetarian/vegan is better for the environment as a whole, but if cutting out meat isn’t something you want to do, this is a good alternative.
At the end of the day, we want to squash the demand for plastic packaging in food.
Bath Product and Makeup Packaging
Think about how many plastic bottles for shampoo, conditioner, or body wash you’ve used and thrown away. Also, think of all of the lipstick containers and palettes made of plastic. Many makeup products use plastic as their packaging because once again it is cheap.
How to mitigate
For bath products, consider getting solid shampoo, conditioner, and body wash. These usually seem to be more expensive than the ethical brands, however the solid options last multiple months. You can also get solid deodorant in biodegradable packaging, and even some toothpaste sold in glass jars (glass comes back 100% after being recycled, unlike plastic).
For makeup, check out this other blogger’s article on zero waste makeup. I personally am a guy who doesn’t wear makeup, so I’ll trust her opinions on this one!
Everyone loves to hate plastic straws, so much that many businesses switched to paper ones for some time. We all know that straws are detrimental to marine life (save the turtles!) and there are many reusable alternatives these days. This may not be a huge cause of plastic pollution, but it is still worth noting.
How to mitigate
Attempt to go to restaurants that do not offer straws or have paper straws as an option, or decline a straw if possible.
Bubble wrap, bubble mailers, plastic packaging materials in general, and packing peanuts are all issues. Styrofoam is also a very common packaging material. In 2020 many of us order a lot of our products online (especially during a global pandemic), and it is hard to escape this kind of packaging.
How to mitigate
Purchase from brands that use paper/cardboard packaging only, or biodegradable shipping materials only. If a brand is claiming to be zero waste, it’s a safe bet that their packaging won’t include plastic. If it does…. well they’re false advertising and deserve a bad review.
When my husband and I visited Hawaii, we were pleased to see that plastic shopping bags were banned there. It just makes sense, since it is an island in the middle of the ocean! Plastic bags are extremely wasteful, and one of the big causes of plastic pollution. These bags are barely reused and practically useless for recycling since plastic becomes weaker as it is recycled, and they are already very weak.
How to mitigate
Bring your own bags! It is very common to see many grocery stores offer reusable bags you can purchase at the checkout. The biggest issue will be remembering the bags, but after you do it a few times you won’t forget to bring them into the store.
On a similar note, aside from plastic shopping bags, you should also stop using regular plastic garbage bags as well if possible. There are many biodegradable garbage bag options available now!
The biggest thing we can do to mitigate the causes of plastic pollution
These five causes of plastic pollution are all things we can mitigate with some lifestyle changes. The single biggest thing we can do to reduce the widespread use of plastic is urging our elected senators and representatives to enforce stricter laws on plastic and environmental protection!
While it is true that if enough people make small lifestyle changes that I suggested above, the problem won’t truly stop until we hold companies accountable for plastic production. If we can get legislation passed to limit plastic production, or if we can fund research into alternatives, that will spark true change.
At the end of the day, companies care about money. If plastic is cheaper than aluminum, glass, or other options, they will use plastic to package and ship their products. We can’t just keep dumping it all in landfills, and since we don’t have an environmentally friendly way to recycle or dispose of it, we should stop using it in favor of better options.