January 1, 2017
Happy 2017! If you’re setting New Year’s goals to help keep you focused on positive action throughout the next 12 months, consider sharing our resolution to use less plastic. Just like committing to be more frugal, eat less junk food, or exercise more regularly, the quest to use less plastic in 2017 won’t be easy. However, it’s an opportunity to create life-long changes that will help the environment and set an important example for our children, families, friends, and coworkers.
Plastic is a human-made material that’s strong, durable, and designed to last. It doesn’t break down as easily or naturally as other types of waste, like wood, grass, animal waste, and food scraps. Long after most other types of waste have decomposed into organic matter, plastic continues to last and last (and last).
Its extremely long life means plastic often ends up sitting somewhere—such as a landfill, the side of a road, or along a riverbank—for years, decades, or even longer. A lot of plastic also gets washed out to sea. Once in the ocean, plastics slowly break down into smaller pieces, releasing chemicals into the water in the process.
Marine life, including seabirds, fish, marine mammals, and marine reptiles such as sea turtles, can suffer from an ocean filled with plastics and microplastics. Animals can become entangled in plastic debris, or they may eat small pieces of plastic thinking they’re food. Animals can’t digest trash like they can digest food; the plastic animals ingest builds up in their systems, exposing them to chemicals that can disrupt their bodies’ natural processes.
Food products, bath and beauty products, cleaning products, and toys typically come packaged in plastic that gets thrown away once an item is opened or once the product inside is used up. Packaging, along with single-use plastics such as plastic bags, plastic cups and straws, and plastic utensils, may be a hard-to-avoid part of today’s society, but it’s in the planet’s best interest to try.
We experienced the problem firsthand during the most recent California Coastal Cleanup Day. While we had been participating in the event for several years running, 2016 was the first year we decided to focus on small trash—mostly plastics and Styrofoam—in a relatively small section of our local beach. In this small section alone, we picked up about 600 pieces of trash measuring 3.5 cm or less.
Here is a time-lapse video we created as part of the event:
Picking up plastic debris and other trash is a great way to help support local conservation efforts, but if humans continue to create trash, we’re not addressing the source of the problem. To really get at the issue, we need to stop creating plastic waste in the first place.
Here are five ways to use less plastic in the coming year:
- Buy a glass straw. It’s tempting to use a plastic straw when dining out, but a reusable glass straw is a better alternative. We purchased reusable glass straws and slim carrying cases from Strawesome, a family-owned business, and we’re really pleased. We’ve found that some restaurants bring our drinks with plastic straws already in them, so our next step is to work around this by remembering to ask for no straw.
- Say “no” to plastic bags. Instead of opting for paper or plastic bags during checkout, bring reusable shopping bags to the store to cut back on plastic waste. If you’re prone to forgetting your bags, keep a few in the car trunk. Bringing reusable bags to the store is already a habit for us (it helped that we moved to a place that charges for plastic bags at checkout), but we do currently use plastic trash bags. We’re in the market for an alternative, so if you’ve tried something that works, please let us know!
- Invest in reusable cutlery. Rather than using disposable forks, spoons, and knives, check out alternatives from companies like Preserve, which offers 100% recycled and reusable utensils and tableware. (We use ours for camping!) Alternatively or additionally, consider carrying bamboo utensils with you for eating away from home. (We decided to go with To-Go Ware’s RePEat utensil set, and they’re on their way.)
- Limit use of plastic cups and lids. If you’re ordering a beverage to drink on the go, try to remember to bring your own mug or other reusable container. While we don’t drink to-go coffee or other drinks too often, we are going to commit to being better about this.
- Be wary of plastic use in general. When buying items, look for options with less plastic packaging. Companies like Lush offer “naked” soaps, solid shampoos, and other products that aren’t wrapped at all. Whenever there’s a choice, we’re going to choose to support companies that use minimal and/or eco-friendly packaging.
Plastic is part of today’s society, but it doesn’t have to be as big a part of your life in 2017 as it was in 2016.
The bottom line:
Plastic is part of today’s society, but it doesn’t have to be as big a part of your life in 2017 as it was in 2016. We’re resolving to reduce our plastic use this year because we believe small changes on an individual basis can add up to big changes globally. If everyone committed to using less plastic in 2017, imagine what a difference it would make!
What do you say? Will you join us?
Bethanie Hestermann is a freelance writer and co-author of Zoology for Kids.