Look around you. Do you spot any plastic? We are surrounded by plastic, from plastic water bottles to plastic toys. It is hard to go a day without using something made out of plastic. What was once a breakthrough invention has now become a problem, both a big and microscopic.
A study done by 5 Gyres in December found that the ocean contains over 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic! This includes microplastics, pieces of plastic that are less than half a centimeter. This tremendous amount of plastic is polluting our environment, our waterways, and potential harming our health.
In a world littered and addicted to plastic, what do you do? It may seem over whelming, but there are plenty of ways to break this plastic addiction. Just like there is tons of plastic, there is lots of alternatives! We have gotten caught up in this use once and toss society, it is time to choose to reuse.
Here are a few items to help rid you of plastic addiction:
Water bottles. Did you know it takes three times the water to make the bottle as it does to fill it? The water bottle has become the staple item to use once and discard. A reusable water bottle, whether glass or aluminum, will help reduce plastic pollution, while also saving water and fossil fuels.
Plastic bags. Countries and states are putting in place plastic bag bans or fees to help reduce the amount of plastic bags used. This is for good reason since around 1 trillion plastic bags are used worldwide every year! These bags may seem convenient, but they are becoming dangerous to our environment, especially to animals and marine life. The alternatives are endless, from canvas bags to a bag once made out of plastic water bottles. There are big bags for grocery shopping or mini-bags to keep in your purse or pocket for a trip to the store.
Straws. In 2014 during our Spring & Fall Beach Sweeps, 18,372 straws and stirrers were picked up! A disposable straw on average is said to be used for a mere twenty minutes, while those coffee stirrers are used for a just a few seconds. Restaurants are starting to tackle this issue by issuing request only straw policies. When you dine out remember to ask your server to hold the straw. Also there are also plenty of reusable options for at home or at work including glass, stainless steel, and bamboo. Carry it with you to use.
Beauty. We all have heard the saying ‘it hurts to be beautiful’, however some beauty regimes are now inflicting pain on the planet. Microbeads, the tiny plastic beads found in face washes, body scrubs, and tooth paste, are ending up in our waterways. States, including New Jersey, are banning the use of microbeads. On a federal level, Congressman Pallone from New Jersey’s 6th congressional district, introduced legislation, the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2014, in June of 2014, that would ban the use of these microbeads.. In 2015, Congressman Pallone, along with Congressman Fred Upton, reaffirmed his belief is this topic by introducing the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015.
While although the NJ microbead ban is a step in the right direction, it contains a loophole that would allow the personal care industry to incorporate "biodegradable" plastics such as polylactic acid (PLA). PLA is able to disintegrate, however, only within municipal composting facilities in high heat environments. Microbeads are too tiny to be filtered within wastewater treatment plants so they'll still end up in our waterways and won't biodegrade since our waters don’t meet the heat requirements needed to degrade. It’s important for the public to understand the whole story and know how to properly advocate for such legislation.
In addition to legislation, companies are also banning the use of microbeads, such as Johnson & Johnson and Unilever. However, there are other companies, such as Aveda, who have never incorporated microbeads into their products. Longtime supporters of Clean Ocean Action, Aveda has continued to understand and support clean water initiatives.
These beads may ‘exfoliate’ your skin, but they are wreaking havoc in our waters. If you want to avoid using such products on your skin, look for polyethylene and polypropylene under the ingredients list. There are also plenty of other alternatives including DIY salt scrubs and body washes.
Clean Ocean Action works tirelessly to protect our ocean and marine life from plastic debris. We recently launched the first microplastics research study in New Jersey to document the scope and magnitude of microplastics on New Jersey beaches, waterways, coastline, and in marine life. Even with the Beach Sweeps and microplastics research it is still up to you to reduce your plastic pollution footprint! For more information please visit our website cleanoceanaction.org