Plastic Pollution Is No Straw Man
By Pamela Henman
Most trash lasts a lifetime, particularly plastic. On dry land, it takes up to 450 years for one plastic bottle to biodegrade, but in water, plastic never fully deteriorates. Instead, it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces, eventually becoming a “microplastic,” measuring less than 5 millimeters long but still big enough to pose a threat to marine life. In fact, the World Economic Forum (WEF) estimates that by 2050, there will be more plastic items floating in our oceans than fish.
The stats are staggering, but thanks to growing pressure from governments, corporations, and — most importantly — consumers, single-use plastic items like bottles, straws, and bags are under scrutiny. In June, the United Nations World Environment Day focused entirely on beating plastic pollution, and the global event culminated in the Government of India committing to ban all single-use plastics by 2022. This year, major brands including Royal Caribbean, SeaWorld, and IKEA have all committed to removing plastic straws and bags from their properties within the next decade, and local governments across the country are also taking a stand. Beginning July 1, Seattle will be the largest U.S. city to enact a law banning plastic straws, utensils, and cocktail picks at bars and restaurants.
Big changes happening on a global scale take time, but each of us can be part of the growing sea change by making small changes. Southface, an organization focused on sustainability and energy efficiency, is taking a hard look at how much trash its office produces. Through analysis and collective action from staff, Southface is working to become a TRUE Zero Waste-certified facility.
When it comes to single-use plastics, the decades-old slogan “Just Say No” takes on new meaning. We all have the power to “Just Say No” to the plastics we encounter on a daily basis, and replace them with reusable alternatives.
- On your next coffee run, grab a reusable mug or tumbler instead. The paper cups most commonly used at coffee shops are lined with a plastic that keeps liquid from seeping through, but prevents the cups from being recyclable. Additionally, the plastic lids are often too small for recycling facilities to process, and are likely to end up in a landfill.
- By now, reusable shopping bags are so plentiful that they’re often given away, but we can take sustainable shopping a step further with reusable bags for fruits, veggies, and other unpackaged items. Available in a variety of sizes and materials, produce bags help keep more plastic out of the ecosystem, and can even be made at home with an old t-shirt.
- Americans use and throw away an estimated 500 million plastic straws every day. Because they are too lightweight to be properly sorted at recycling processing facilities, straws often end up in the landfill and waterways. If you can’t skip it outright, sip with a reusable stainless steel or bamboo straw, or opt for a biodegradable paper alternative.
If you’re ready to take a stand, spread the word and show your friends, family, and coworkers how easy it is to be plastic-free. For more tips on eco-friendly living made easy, sign up for Southface’s e-newsletter to learn more about an upcoming initiative focused on reducing waste in the workplace.