World-saving New Year’s Resolution: No More Plastic!
Most New Year’s resolutions are centered around losing weight/getting in shape, getting a new job, saving money, quitting smoking, and spending time with family. These are all respectable ways to improve our lives as we turn a new year filled with hope and changes for a brighter future. However, I want to suggest a New Year’s resolution that is a little different, but has wide-reaching, positive and life-saving effects on us and the rest of the world—resolving to stop using plastic of all kinds. Some of the reasons why and some of the ways we can do this are outlined below.
In my book, Mood, Food and Gratitude: Healing from the Way We Think (Balboa, 2016), I wrote that the human species is quite possibly the most destructive force on the planet. Sadly, in the last 60 years, human behavior has had a deleterious effect on the health of the planet at levels not seen in the past 10,000 years. This translates into the possible obliteration of land and ocean life, including the human race itself.
There are many ways humans are killing the planet, but one of the most dangerous ways is through our use of plastics.
10 Shocking Statistics About Plastic
- We use 50% of all plastics only once and then throw them away.
- In America alone, we throw away, not recycle, 35 billion plastic water bottles per year.
- Approximately 500 billion plastic bags are used every year; that equates to more than one million bags per minute.
- It takes 500 – 1,000 years for plastic to degrade.
- Plastic pollutes. Plastic constitutes approximately 90 percent of all trash floating on the ocean’s surface, with 46,000 pieces of plastic per square mile. 80 percent of pollution enters the ocean from the land.
- Billions of pounds of plastic can be found in swirling convergences in the oceans making up about 40 percent of the world’s ocean surfaces. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is located in the North Pacific Gyre off the coast of California and is the largest ocean garbage site in the world. This floating mass of plastic is twice the size of Texas. Amazingly, plastic pieces outnumber sea life six to one. Additionally, Kamilo Beach, in a remote corner of Hawaii, is now known as “Plastic Beach” for the tons of plastic debris that accumulates on its shores.
- Plastic harms ocean life. Hundreds of thousands of seabirds ingest plastic every year. This reduces the storage volume of the stomach, causing birds to consume less food and ultimately starve. Marine mammals ingest and get tangled in plastic, leading to injury and death.
- In samples collected in Lake Erie, 85 percent of the plastic particles were smaller than two-tenths of an inch and much of that was microscopic. Researchers found 1,500 and 1.7 million of these particles per square mile.
- Virtually every piece of plastic that was ever made still exists in some shape or form (with the exception of the small amount that has been incinerated).
- Plastic harms humans. As plastic debris floats in the seawater, it absorbs dangerous pollutants like PCBs, DDT and PAH. These chemicals are highly toxic to fish and humans with a multitude of chronic effects that include hormone/endocrine disruption and cancer-causing mutations. As plastics break apart in the ocean, they also release potentially toxic chemicals such as bisphenol A (BPA), which can then enter the food web. When animals eat plastic pieces, the toxins are absorbed into their bodies. Ultimately, these toxins end up in our bodies when we eat seafood. In fact, approximately 93 percent of Americans over the age of six test positive for BPA (a plastic chemical).
(I’d like to thank the ecowatch.com and biologicaldiversity.org websites for the use of the above statistics. IF there is a hyperlink, please feel free to click on it and it will take you to more information to help you understand the wide, harmful effects of plastics in the oceans.)
Micro-plastics can also be found as microbeads in makeup, soaps, and other such products. These wash down the drain and into our water system, eventually carried into the lakes and oceans, again, ending up as mistaken food for ocean life and then in us. The problem of plastics in the environment is one that can be solved and we are just the people who can solve it.
What Can We Do?
The power of the people to affect positive, life-saving changes in the world is immeasurable and unlimited. We can work together on a global and a local level. A number of countries in the world have already completely banned or charge a premium for lightweight plastic bags. See the list of those countries below:
- Africa – more than 15 countries have completely banned or charge a tax for them. Following the ban, Africa reduced its plastic bag use 90%.
- Europe – The European Union wants to reduce its plastic bag use by 80% by 2019. To that end, Scotland, England, Italy, Wales, and Germany have put measures in place to meet that goal.
- South America – Some countries, such as Chile, Argentina, Brazil, and Colombia have moved toward using only biodegradable plastic or implementing recycling programs.
- North America – The United States has not put a sweeping bag ban in effect, though Mexico and some Canadian provinces have banned plastic bags. America, we need to do more!
Each one of us is part of a massive collective that can create shifts that either harm or heal. This applies to ourselves, our children, pets, all animal and plant life, the lakes, and oceans. If we have created these problems on the planet with plastic, and whether our governments ban plastic bags or not, we have the power to heal the planet by no longer using plastics on an individual level. Locally, each of us can resolve to take the following steps.
How You Can Rid Your Home of Plastic
- Stop buying bottled water – instead by a water bottle and fill it throughout the day. The number of plastic bottles that end up in the oceans each year are enough to wrap around the planet itself four times. These plastic bottles are choking ocean life. When ocean life dies, we die.
- Stop using plastic bags – In 2011, the entire country of Italy banned the use of all plastic bags. All merchants can only offer paper, biodegradable plastic or cloth bags. If Italy can do it, each one of us can do it. In the United Kingdom, a plastic bag will cost you five pence, which is about seven United States cents. This has been done to encourage people to pack groceries, clothes, and other items purchased in reusable bags. I have five reusable bags, though I often forgot to take them in the store with me for the first two months I had them. I remedied that by putting the bags on the front seat of my car. I haven’t forgotten one since.
- Stop using plastic straws and plastic wear for food when not at home. Refuse single-serving packaging, excess packaging, straws, and other “disposable” plastics as these plastics themselves number into the billions per year in disposable waste that ends up in our lakes and oceans.
- Take your own reusable cup to the local coffee shop so you don’t have to have a paper cup with a plastic lid on it, for those coffee shops that will allow you to use your own container.
- Do not use products that come in plastic or have plastic in them, as much as possible (life makeup and soaps). Resolve to get educated on what products come in glass or paper alternatives and buy those instead. Often, a local milk farmer will package in paper containers rather than in plastic. Research which cosmetics have microbeads in them and resolve to stop using these for safer alternatives. It may be challenging to move from plastics, but must make the move wherever we are able. Each time we don’t use plastic, we are saving ourselves and the planet.
- Recycle. Get involved in local recycling projects or start your own. Ryan Hickman saved $10,000 for college by starting and running his own recycling business. Ryan was seven years old! If Ryan can do this, each of us can do our part for reducing, reusing and recycling. There are many resources online to assist in starting your own local project.
- If you have to use plastics, make sure to use #1 (PETE) or #2 (HDPE). These are the most common recycled plastics. Additionally, make certain not to use polystyrene foam since this has low recycling opportunities, if any.
Becoming aware of the issues involving plastics and the detrimental effects they have will help each of us find better products to use and encourage us to change the way we do things now. For every plastic bag that doesn’t end up in the lakes and oceans, another dolphin or seal life is saved. Keep your current resolutions, but consider adding an extra one that will last throughout the years—no longer using plastics!
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