Plastic seems to always be at the top of every environmental topic. It has become a commodity that has defined us as humans and how we live. For some reason, we just can’t get away from it.
Everywhere we look, plastic is there. Even if we all do our best and try to go “plastic-free” in some way shape or form, we come into contact with it at the very least a few dozen times a day. Look around you right now, count how many things are made from it, or even contain small parts of it.
The question is “how do we get out of this toxic relationship we have built?”
There are plenty of new and amazing technologies now that offer alternatives, but the issue seems to be the funding for it. Some of these alternative technologies are quite expensive in comparison, and we all want the best quality products at the cheapest price.
The biggest contributor to the plastic issue we face is the single-use products, and that is what the focus of this post is.
There are many types of plastic available, some claiming to be “green” or “compostable” but when you research more about them, it is true, but only in the right conditions.
Compostable (PLA) Plastics
Better technology has allowed us to create new plastics derived from plant starches such as sugar-cane, corn, and cassava. These plastics are typically known as PLAs and are usually marketed as compostable or biodegradable.
The question we have to ask, “Are Compostable Plastics or PLA Plastics any better?”
The answer to this is yes and no. Ultimately they are still plastic, they still have the same lifespan as other plastics if they are not in the right conditions.
Yes, they are compostable, however, they have to be in the right environment such as an industrial compost. The compost environment needs to have the right temperature, the right amount of moisture, the right pressure and even the right chemical conditions.
So they are compostable and this is a step in the right direction, and this is a positive sign. However, there is still an issue here. PLA products cannot be recycled with other main-stream plastics as it has a lower melting temperature and this causes issues at recycling centres.
Without the proper compost systems in place or the appropriate recycling centres, this type of product is still no better than your standard petrochemical products.
I am sure you have heard of PET (Polyethylene terephthalate) plastics, and if not, you most definitely have come into contact with them. They are the most common type of product used for single-use bottles.
The good news with this plastic, it is able to be recycled in most countries that have the appropriate facilities to process them. These recycling centres are available in most well-developed nations.
The problem is, most under-developed countries don’t have access to good or safe drinking water, so there really is no other choice than to purchase bottled water. This is where we have a problem, as the majority of the nations that have to purchase these products also don’t have access to sufficient recycling centres.
The next problem with this is, these countries are generally the most populated areas in the world. Therefore, the majority of the single-use plastics are just being discarded, and they are piling up fast.
Whether it be in the ocean or just in the country-side of the villages, towns or sewer systems. I guess the biggest question is how do we fix this problem?
Earlier I stated that there are single-use plastic alternatives. Whether this is a reusable plastic bottle, a metal or glass drinking bottle and so on.
But what about these really new and exciting technologies that have started to develop “edible plastics.” You might think I am crazy for even saying this, but it is a real thing. They have created an edible plastic made out of seaweed.
We have started travelling with metal straws, bamboo is another sustainable alternative if you “must” have a straw. This seems minimal, but some stats peg straw usage at half a billion used every single day. That’s right, billion.
For the food service industry, there are plenty of options available as well. Bamboo cutlery, recycled cardboard boxes, bowls and more.
There are so many options available, but again the problem is these are more expensive options so this would mean prices would again have to be passed onto the consumer.
With so many alternatives available now, we as a society need to put more pressure on corporations and governments to put an end to this growing crisis. They have started to make small changes in some locals, but it is not enough.
Quick Plastic Consumption Stats
There are so many ways we as individuals can reduce our use of plastics. It may not seem like much when you feel like you are the only one doing it.
In North America, and Western Europe, the average person consumes 100 kilograms (220 pounds) each year. There are approximately 1.226 billion people just in North America and Western Europe alone according to 2019 UN Estimates.
That equals 122.50 billion kilograms (269.57 billion pounds) based on the annual average. This is insane when you break it down and look at it this way.
In these two populations, if we could just reduce our use by a simple 10%, that would be 12.25 billion kilograms (26.96 billion pounds).
How To Reduce your Plastic Consumption
The first and quickest way to reduce a large portion of your plastic use is STOP buying bottled water. First of all, it is way more expensive than buying a tap filter at home and using a reusable bottle.
Buy some simple metal or bamboo straws if you use straws. These are handy for travel too and you can typically get a set of 4 or more with a carry bag and brush for under $10.
Bring your own bags to the grocery store. Yes, I know it can be a pain and hard to remember them. Trust me, we lived in a community where plastic bags were banned, and we ended up with hundreds of reusable bags.
Another simple way is to order or purchase some mesh produce bags for when you do your groceries. These are reusable as well, and can just be washed in your laundry.
Try to purchase items in the bulk foods department if your store has it. This is usually much cheaper than packaged items, and most stores will let you bring your own jars in to fill. Just ensure you check with the store first, and have the tare weights available for the cashier so you aren’t charged for the weight of your jars.
Can We Change?
I believe we can make these changes as a society. We got ourselves into this disaster, to begin with, so we must get ourselves out of it. We can’t continue to wait for the brilliant minds to come up with a solution for us.
We all have to do our part now by changing our habits and behaviours related to plastic. Again, look at the numbers above, if all of Western Europe and North America made a simple 10% reduction it equates to billions of pounds reduced each year.
Major corporations need to own their social and environmental responsibility and change their habits before the government steps in. The only way this is going to happen is if we as consumers demand change today, not tomorrow.
The government stepping in should be a last resort, and unfortunately, it seems like this may be the only resort at this point. Some governments are doing their part, but it is not enough and with too long of timelines attached for regulations to be implemented.
We need to act now and do our part to save the oceans, and the planet from this suffocating toxic relationship we have with single-use plastic.
How do you make an impact and reduce your plastic consumption?
*Disclaimer: This is an opinion based article. Not all facts may be 100% accurate, but to the best of my knowledge they are.*