By Cambria Bartlett
When you throw “away” plastic, you put it in your garbage can and probably never think of it again. While you’re not thinking about it, though, it’s still out there. What happens after you’ve forgotten about that plastic cup or bottle or straw or bag? Sadly, too much of it ends up in the ocean. An estimated 18.5 billion pounds of trash, much of it plastic, is dumped in the world’s oceans every year!
In the past, we did dump trash directly in the ocean. We’ve mostly stopped doing that, but somehow it is still flowing into our oceans. How does it get there? When the garbage truck comes and picks up our trash, it is brought to a dump where piles of garbage are stacked in mountains. The wind blows some of it out of the dump, where the rain washes it downhill to a waterway, like a stream or storm drain. Sooner or later that water flows into the ocean with its garbage stowaways. What is wrong with it being in the ocean? For one thing, thousands of animals die every year from ingesting or getting entangled in plastic. We need the ocean healthy, and to have a healthy ocean, we need healthy animals. We can all contribute to healthier oceans, and a healthier life for all of the creature on this planet, including us, by using less plastic.
- Bring your own water bottle wherever you go. In the United States alone, we used 50 billion plastic water bottles last year! And, only 23% of that plastic was recycled. By carrying a refillable water bottle, you are keeping plastic out of landfills, off beaches, and out of the ocean.
- Bring your own bags. Carrying reusable grocery bags is an easy thing to do. Just keep a few in your car, and you will be helping to stop the flow of plastic into the sea. Along with bringing a big cloth bag, make sure to carry little ones for vegetables and fruit, too. Californians voted to ban single-use plastic grocery bags throughout the state, but this does not include produce bags or take-out bags.
- Buy in bulk. If you buy in bulk, you can put the food in reusable bags or jars instead of buying plastic packaging. You can also buy more at a time, which means fewer trips to the grocery store and therefore less energy is used.
- Eat less take out. Eating at home tends to be healthier for us, our money and our waters. Take out food is packaged in so much plastic. Do restaurants really need to put food in a plastic container and a double plastic bag?! Before you eat out, consider thinking about the cost to you and to our oceans.
- Make your own snacks. If you cook your food, then you’re buying fewer small snack items like energy bars, applesauce, chips and trail mix. Plus, it’s healthier for you.
- Pack your lunch in reusable containers. If you pack your sandwich, your veggies, your pretzels, your strawberries and your apple all in individual plastic ziplock bags and you pack that same lunch five days a week, you would use 1,300 ziplock bags every year. These can potentially get into the ocean, by blowing out of your car, the garbage truck or away from landfills. If you place your lunch in reusable containers, this won’t be a problem.
- Be aware of plastic pollution. If we are aware of the health of the environment, then we can have a healthier planet, and therefore a healthier us. If everyone was aware of the harm caused by plastic pollution in the ocean, they would be more likely to make better choices like picking up candy wrappers that have found their way onto the ground—even if they don’t belong to you.
- Participate in beach and waterway clean ups. This is something you can do with your friends and family. We don’t only need to reduce the amount of plastic we use, but we also need to prevent the plastic that already exists from getting in the ocean.
- Organize clean ups in your town. It is just as important to clean up your neighborhood as it is to clean the beach. When the rain comes, trash washes downhill with the water into a creek or a storm drain that leads to the ocean. As one of the experts I talked to, Dr. Rochman, said: “All waterways are like arteries carrying plastic to the ocean.” Picking up plastic and trash along our streets and sidewalks will help prevent it from washing into our waterways with the rain.
- Spread the word, tell friends and family about the problem. This is something we can all do. The more people that know about the harm caused by plastic pollution, the more people will do these 10 things to make our oceans, our environment and ourselves healthier.
- Jambeck, J. R. et al, “Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean”, Science, 347(6223), pp.768-771, 2015.
- Center for Biological Diversity, “OCEAN PLASTICS POLLUTION: A GLOBAL TRAGEDY FOR OUR OCEANS AND SEA LIFE”, http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/campaigns/ocean_plastics/, 2017.
- Ban the Bottle, “Bottled Water Facts”, https://www.banthebottle.net/bottled-water-facts/, 2017.