The statistics are sobering. Each year we are using more than 500 billion plastic bags worldwide. More than one million bags are used every minute. The U.S. alone throws away about 50 million plastic bottles per day. At least 90 percent of the total amount of thermoplastics we consume in our daily lives are used once and tossed out.
And that doesn’t even factor in all the microplastics landing in our sewers from cosmetic products and synthetic fabrics that we discussed in the previous post.
The disturbing part of this for our oceans is how much of this plastic winds up as miniscule floating toxic pieces of fish food, swept into ocean garbage patches, lining the stomachs of sea animals and birds or littering our coastlines. A recent Marine Pollution Bulletin reported that 56 percent of whales, dolphins and porpoises swallowed a piece of plastic in 2014.
The damage from disposable plastic to our environment is increasing, as are the huge costs to our economy for producing it and dealing with the pollution.
Let’s talk about what goes into it. In the U.S. alone, around 30 millions barrels oil annually are used to produce the shopping bags and plastic water bottles, enough to fuel 2 million cars for that year. And that doesn’t even include the oil used for transportation. Plus, businesses spend billions on stocking disposable items that contribute to the costs of our goods.
We also pay on the other end. Local governments need to clean this trash off streets to protect public health, prevent flooding from trash-blocked storm drains, and avoid losing tourism dollars from unsightly beaches.
When you step back and look it, the whole cycle makes no sense. We consume valuable, non-renewable resources to create materials that last hundreds of years to make products that we use once and throw away.
Of course it’s just part of a larger broken system. We’ve become a disposable society, one that’s increasingly disconnected from what goes into our daily conveniences. Petroleum has given us the gift of cheap abundant energy and lightweight, flexible, stable packaging. Ultimately, though, it has led us to forget traditional, eco-friendly practices that we’ve abandoned rapidly over the past 50 years.
So what we do about it? Disposable plastic is deeply embedded in our economic system and modern lifestyles. We need a concerted approach not only in our individual actions, but throughout the production, consumption and disposal cycle to shift our mindsets to really make a difference in turning the tide of plastic pollution.
Here are the key ways you can help:
- Learn more about the issues with plastic pollution and the impacts to our oceans and economy.
- Support organizations and governmental measures designed to stop plastic pollution at its source or ensure plastic is recycled. A growing coalition of community, environmental and business groups are working to create incentives for industry to ban microplastics in cosmetics and toothpaste, use less packaging, to ensure recycling, and to use alternative non-toxic, biodegradable materials. Producers should also be required to help cover the costs required to keep plastic out of the ocean and environment.
- Demand and support plastic bag and polystyrene foam bans and bottle recycling bills. Or encourage fees for bags/cups/utensils, or other incentives to stop merchants from dispensing single-use unnecessary plastics. Support merchants who agree to these measures.
- Resolve to cut your use of disposables and just say “no”!
- Refuse single-use plastics on the road. Carry reusable bags, mugs, water bottles, utensils, etc. Opt for products packaged in paper or glass instead of plastic, or bulk items without packaging.
- Replace plastic items you use at home with alternative materials or do without. Do you really need that zip-top bag or plastic wrap or can you use something else?
- Reconsider wearing natural vs. synthetic fabrics such as microfleece and nylon which shed plastic into our waterways when laundered. Support organizations that are looking for creative solutions to fix this problem.
- Reuse or Recycle plastic containers and bags that you do obtain. Find creative ways to use them, or recycle them when that’s not possible.
- Reduce your consumption of processed food items and bottled beverages. Cook from scratch, drink more water. Your health, pocketbook and the planet will thank you!
- Volunteer at or Organize a cleanup in your locale or at a coastal cleanup.
- Donate to organizations that are working to educate about and clean up trash in the ocean.
- Talk to others about the importance of dealing with plastic pollution.
For more resources on taking action, visit our Take Action page.
For a list of organizations that are focused on plastic pollution issues, visit our Top Info Sources page.