July 28, 2020

Each year, an accumulation of 8 million tons of plastic pollution reaches the oceans. According to National Geographic, that's equivalent to five trash bags per foot square foot of the world's coastlines. Sunlight, waves and wind reduce plastic pollution into tiny pieces, and these microplastics make their way to every point on the planet, from the heights of Mount Everest to the depths of the Mariana Trench. 

The need to reduce plastic pollution becomes more urgent every day — production may double by 2050! Here are 10 tips to reduce your contribution to plastic waste.

1. Don't use plastic bottles

Plastic water bottles take 1,000 years to bio-degrade. When incinerated, they produce dangerous fumes. More than 80% of single-use water bottles end up on the streets or in U.S. landfills, which contain more than 2 million tons of water bottles.

Instead of reaching for a bottle of water at the grocery store or from your fridge, invest in a reusable, non-plastic water container. Some come with filters to improve the taste of chlorinated tap water. Consider water and mineral water packaged in recyclable materials. For example, Nuwater mineral water comes packaged in aluminum cans that are 100% recyclable.

2. Don't use plastic straws

If possible, say no to plastic straws. Straws, like most other plastic products, end up in the ocean. You can help by asking local restaurants to stop automatically putting straws in drinks, or least not to put one in yours.

Some people with disabilities need straws to drink without choking. However, paper straws work just as well and biodegrade in years not millennia.

3. Avoid plastic microbeads in personal care products

Found in toothpaste and body or face wash, microbeads are used as abrasives or to bulk up a product, which increases the profit margin for companies that use microbeads. They range in size from 5μm (1 micron is a millionth of a meter) to 1mm and are produced from synthetic polymers such as polylactic acid (PLA), polypropylene, polystyrene, polyethylene or polyethylene terephthalate. You can look for these ingredients and avoid products that have them.

Tiny microbeads pass through conventional wastewater treatment and end up in rivers and other waterways. So, after you scrub your face or brush your teeth, the plastic beads wash out to the oceans. Small fish and other wildlife can mistake the microbeads for food.

In 2015, Congress added the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015 to the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act to address the problem.

4. Avoid plastic packaging

From making better decisions at the store to choosing a new place to buy your food, you can help a lot by cutting down on the plastic packaging of your purchases. Also, individual fruit and vegetables often cost less than pre-packaged foods.

5. Avoid balloons or other plastic decorations at parties

Paper and fabric decorations can be reused and have a less harmful impact on the environment. Get creative and have fun shaping paper into exciting decorations! Cardboard bunting, paper kites, paper lanterns, origami decorations and paper pom-poms add flair and style to your bash without bashing the environment when you throw them away.

You can make flowers with cupcake liners or buy a paper-mache pinata stuffed with goodies. If you're crafty, you can do a lot of these projects yourself. However, you can also buy them on Etsy. 

Fabric decorations last longer than paper ones, so you can pack them away between birthday parties. Examples include flags and banners, fabric garlands and ornaments, fabric backdrops for a photoshoot theme and fabric lettering spelling out happy birthday, Merry Christmas or any other appropriate message. 

6. Take a reusable coffee cup

Reusable coffee cups come in different shapes, sizes and materials. You can take these to work to refuel your caffeine buzz and help the environment at the same time.

If your favorite coffee shop doesn't have eco-friendly alternatives, let them know why you're looking for one that does.

7. Say no to disposable plastic cutlery

Take-away food often comes with plastic cutlery whether you want it or not. After one use, these throw-away utensils end up in the landfill. Plastic cutlery is not recyclable because it's considered to contaminated. So 40 billion plastic knives, forks and spoons per year are discarded with no way to reuse them.

8. Switch to aluminum foil or wax wraps

Cling film produces additional plastic waste that can choke and confuse wildlife. Instead of cling film, try foil and wax paper, which are recyclable and biodegradable, as well as serving the same convenient function. 

9. Participate in beach clean-ups

Local parks, beaches and other public spaces often hold clean-ups in the spring and summer months. If you live along a river or ocean coastline, you can directly impact the amount of plastic waste by cleaning it up. Some of the plastic you pick up can be recycled!

10. Recycle

If your job or garbage collection service recycles plastic, do your part to sort and put out your recyclables. The process isn't perfect, but it's often better than letting plastics make their way to the landfill. After you put your recycled containers on the curb, they are collected, sorted and shredded. Then, the shredded plastic gets washed and melted down so it can be formed into pellets. Various industries recycle the pellets to make new containers, and the process varies depending on the type of resin and product recycled.

Make a Difference and Reduce Plastic Pollution

By following the steps about and coming up with your own ways to reduce plastic pollution, you can make a real difference in the health of the planet. Skipping the straw won't make your favorite beverage taste differently but it can make a big difference to the environment.

Single-use plastics carry a high price that future generations will pay for millennia. After you break your habit, help you friends overcome their plastic addictions too. Together, we can avoid irreparable harm to wildlife, the oceans and human health.