plastic & Microbeads

what are

Single use plastic feels like it’s basically handed to us for free several times a day whether it be at grocery stores, restaurants, or parties. The problem is that you use it once for maybe a few minutes, then it instantly becomes trash. Most single use plastic like bags, straws, and cutlery are not recyclable because they are such a low quality of plastic as it is. Plastic never biodegrades, instead it breaks down in the environment into tiny pieces called microplastics. These microplastics find their way into our environment harming plants, animals, and even us. Become a Green Actioneer and make a point to reduce your use of plastic each day, every action counts!

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benefits of plastic

animals

Plastic floating in the ocean can easily be mistaken as food for marine life. Ingesting plastic can cause animals to choke, starve, or drown. Responsibly dispose of your single use plastics and make a point to discontinue using them to help save animals.

health

Microplastics are in the depths of our environment, which is cause for concern especially for those who consume meat and seafood. Animals that ingest microplastics begin at the very bottom of the food chain leading to your families dinner plates.

money

Plastic may seem cheap now, but over time it is more cost effective to have your own set of reusable bags, bottles, straws, and cutlery that will last forever. Alternatives like glass, metal, paper, and more can be just as effective and save you money in the long run.

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the devastation of plastic

If you look around today, you’ll see plastics everywhere from buildings, cars, cups and bottles and it’s hard to imagine what life would be like without them, but they weren’t always there. Single use plastics are a relatively new thing, plastics weren’t really used prior to WW2 because beverages were packaged in glass bottles that were reused, and foods were packaged in cans and jars. Plastics started as a positive idea to help limit disease that could have spread due to people sharing communal cups at public water fountains. They also began using them in toys, cars and other everyday items because plastic is cheap, lightweight and can be turned into just about anything imaginable. 

Even though plastic was originally created for good it had a bad side almost immediately, plastic was being found in the ocean as early as the 1960’s and that’s when scientists started seeing the negative effects of all of this plastic.

the illusion of needing plastic:

Plastic is a convenience when it comes to everyday items like water bottles, plates, cups out name it, its super easy to just grab a bottle of water and go instead of refill a bottle you already used or throw away that plastic plate instead of having to wash a non-plastic one. This convenience is what’s led virtually everything to have some type of plastic wrapper or packaging and when you buy it not many people think about where it will end up after it thrown away or recycled.

The need for single use plastics is an illusion because the places that are taking this plastic to be recycled after you dispose of it aren’t recycling all of it, and about 91% of the plastic is ending up in landfills across the globe. Today’s recycling centers aren’t capable of recycling all the plastics they received for different reasons, sometimes it’s not sorted correctly so none of it can be recycled or a certain center might only accept certain types of plastics and all the others received are taken to a landfill to sit for thousands of years before they start to break down and even then they just turn into smaller pieces of plastic, so it never really goes away. The world using single use plastics isn’t just by coincidence however, it’s by design. Big oil companies which produce plastic (yes that’s right oil goes into plastics) are paying to keep plastics in use because with new technologies being developed to eliminate fossil fuels big oil will need plastic to stay in business.

the harm to families, communities, wildlife, and the planet:

When these single use plastics enter the landfills they sit there for thousands of years before starting to break down into smaller bits, when they do break down they release chemicals into the soil which can be releases into our drinking water supply or these chemicals can be absorbed into crops grown nearby in the soil or by the water they are irrigated with.  These chemicals haven’t been around long enough for scientists to know exactly the severity of the damage these chemicals that are in plastic can have on the planet, but they do know they’re not well. 

When plastics enter the ocean, they can resemble food for marine life like dolphins, whales, sea turtles, and sea birds. When marine life eats this plastic, it can lead to a slow death due to starvation. Plastics that accumulate on the coast can also disrupt species like sea turtles and seabirds who use the beaches for nesting, these species may not nest because the accumulation of plastic is too much. Plastic has no place in the ecosystem, it is destroying the way animals live their everyday lives and humans are the ones that created the problems. 

Animals aren’t the only ones that are affected by plastics, humans are directly affected by plastics too. Plastic is entering our foods we eat, when plastic gets consumed by a fish and then we consume that fish we now have plastic and the chemicals it contains in our bloodstream. All this plastic accumulation isn’t good for our bodies and can cause some serious harm.

the true cost of single use plastic:

The cost of using single use plastic isn’t just a financial cost it’s an environmental cost that’s taking a big toll on our planet and could take a big toll on us very soon. How much do you typically pay for a to-go box at your local restaurant? It’s free, right? Because of its low, low retail cost, people across the globe think of plastic as cheap or even totally free. But single-use plastic, a petroleum product, is anything but free. The market value of plastic doesn’t reflect the harmful effects caused by the entire plastic pollution cycle: oil extraction, resin manufacturing and processing, consumption, and waste management. Extraction harms local environments, contaminating groundwater and exposing local residents to toxic chemicals. Resin manufacturing has toxic byproducts, and the transportation of small pellets can often release toxins into waterways and ecosystems. Consumption of food or drinks in single-use plastic packaging results in exposure to BPA, which can accumulate inside humans and can be tied to long-term adverse health effects.

Plastic manufacturers (oil companies), as well as food and beverage companies are not required to take the expenses into account so the cost your paying isn’t the real cost that goes into manufacturing single use plastics.  

 

the rewards of reducing plastic use:

The rewards of getting off plastic are vast and can be self-satisfying knowing that your part of the movement to help save our planet and stop the use of single use plastics. It reduces the amount of trash we produce, thereby increasing the longevity of existing landfills and cutting of the supply of plastic to that giant gyre of garbage swirling out in the oceans as well as all the plastic that’s ending up on our beaches.

There’s financial rewards in cutting out plastic.

Items that are pre-packed in plastic within the basic supply store or drug store. We don’t regularly halt to think that for the cost of one granola bar, we may have obtained bulk forms of the fixings and made an entirety weeks’ worth. Or skipping the cleaners that come in plastic bottles in favor of a basic DIY cleaner that can be made with bulk items using less plastic. By cutting ties with plastic and picking to create your own forms of your favorite plastic-laden items, you’ll see the financial benefits start to show up back in your pockets!

Alternatives to single use plastic:

Today there are more alternatives to single use plastics than ever before. 

Some plastic alternatives that are popular and affordable include 

  • Stainless steel- Extremely simple to clean, stainless steel alternatives for reusable food packing are easily obtained at most stores now. You can replace single-use cups, food storage, lunch boxes, and more with this durable reusable metal.
  • Glass- glass is what was primarily used before plastic, inexpensive and infinitely recyclable, glass is also easy to clean. Glass packing can also be found at many common stores and you don’t have to necessarily buy it for packaging, jars from jam, honey, pickles, nut butters, and much more can be washed and reused in a variety of uses. They can also be repurposed into fun things like gifts and art projects.
  • Beeswax-coated cloth- this is primarily used as a replacement for plastic wrap and plastic bags, it’s easy to use and has a smell that some would say is honey.
  • Wood- A renewable resource that can be grown sustainably. Wood has a variety of uses and can be made into things like utensils, bowls, and just about anything with a handle.
  • Paper- in the past many things were wrapped and packed in plastic, while paper is better than plastic, paper cannot be recycled forever because every time it’s reused, the fibers get shorter, limiting its use. While it can’t be recycled infinitely it can be composted. 
  • Bio plastic- Bioplastics are biodegradable or compostable plastics made from natural substances instead of oil. The idea is that these new, “greener” plastics can replace the harmful ones in our food and around our home. This seems like a great substitute but it’s still in early stages and has some complications.

Unfortunately, many bioplastics can’t break down in home composts, landfills, or naturally in the environment. These bioplastics have to be collected and shipped to specially set up recycling centers so they can break down properly, even though it takes some work these bioplastics are better than using traditional plastics. 

A big resource that can be saved by using plastic alternatives is petroleum oil, as plastic is largely made from oil. So is polyester, which is just another kind of plastic. Most plastic bags are made from polyethylene, which comes from natural gas. It’s estimated that two million barrels of oil are used in the United States every day to make single use plastics, that oil costs a lot of money and could have better uses than going into a plastic bottle or plastic bag that’s going to be used once and then end up in a landfill.

Another resource that families will be happy to save is money! Buying single use plastics is expensive and its estimated that the average American uses over $100 per year/per person in plastic bottles alone! Now think of how much single use plastic you’ve used in the last week, that sure can add up!

obstacles to reducing single use plastics:

Getting rid of single use plastic does have its challenges there’s many reasons why it hasn’t been eliminated from being used even though it makes so much since to do so.

Single use plastic has become a habit across the world, it surrounds us, and many times people don’t have the option to not use it. There’s also political issues like a lack of strict laws to hold companies that are manufacturing plastics accountable for the degradation of our planet. We need stricter policies and laws that help eliminate the use of single use plastic. 

There’s some health obstacles as well, the problems with sanitation of reusable medical equipment present the biggest issue. In places that lack proper nutrition when things are brought into these areas to distribute you want them to be pre-packaged in sanitary containers and right now plastic is serving as that sanitary container until we can find a more sustainable cost effective alternative. Medicine is one of the rare exceptions as a field that relies on single use plastic for cross-contamination and disease control. Having a blood test requires gloves made from plastic, a plastic syringe, and a plastic vial, all of which are single use to control defilement and infection. While glass is frequently recommended as an alternative, this presents challenges in cleaning, transport and accessibility, especially in crisis circumstances where assets may be constrained another problem is how would u feel getting treated with the same syringe or vial as someone with a highly contagious condition. At the moment, there are few practical solutions to this waste issue in the medical field, but future innovations may propose viable alternatives.

societal conflicts to reducing plastic:

cost

This may be a big inhibitor, not all of us are in a monetary situation to create change which is okay. A few of the plastic swaps cost a lot more up-front but will spare you cash within the long run, a few are cheaper, and others are more costly. It's important to remember that the costs of future problems caused by plastic today will be exponentially more than the cost of investing in solutions now.

Lifestyle

Our current economy is capitalistic on the cycle of produce- use – then dispose. We take the short life span of single use plastic products as normal because it’s become normal for us to have to go buy these things again. The good news is, as a whole we are moving towards a more circular economy that takes in account of our ecosystems. But for the time being it’s up to individual families to make positive daily decisions and reduce our plastic waste. This initial giving up of plastic will take some work, but it will save you from having to keep buying single use plastic in the future.

relationships

Maybe you have family, friends or coworkers who aren’t supportive of these changes, maybe they fear change or are hung up on an aspect of how it will affect them. You might not be able to change their perspective because the only perspective you can change is your own. Focus on your plastic usage for now and maybe in time they’ll become more open to changes in how they use plastic too.

Consumer Mindset

Our current economy is capitalistic on the cycle of produce- use – then dispose. We take the short life span of single use plastic products as normal because it’s become normal for us to have to go buy these things again. The good news is, as a whole we are moving towards a more circular economy that takes in account of our ecosystems. But for the time being it’s up to individual families to make positive daily decisions and reduce our plastic waste. This initial giving up of plastic will take some work, but it will save you from having to keep buying single use plastic in the future.

Conclusion:

The elimination of single use plastic within your family or household is incredibly important and its super easy and cost effective to do! Action can come from the bottom up, influencing politicians to follow what the people want. You can also use your vote to elect policy makers that are taking steps to eliminate plastics. Some ideas for families and households are reducing your daily single use plastic, switching over to reusable plastic free household items like dishes and utensils, eliminating use of plastic shopping bags and using a reusable alternative. Small daily steps is all you need to do and overtime you can make a difference! 

Not only are you saving money by cutting plastic out, you’re helping save the planet and preserving ecosystems. You can take small daily goals within your family to do this like not use a plastic water bottle every day and use a refillable metal one instead. It doesn’t have to happen all at once it can happen gradually but the most important thing is that it does happen so we can save the planet from single use plastics.

James A Michaels

James A Michaels

Green Actioneers Intern
UCF Environmental Studies Student

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