Want to make a difference for marine life? Join Plastic free Ecochallenge as a member of the “Plastics Free NOLA” team and help us fight against plastic pollution!
With recent changes to municipal recycling rules, now is a great time to take a look at your habits with single-use plastics and see where you can make easy changes.
Plastic Free July is a 31-day global challenge to reduce and refuse single-use plastics. Inspired by this movement, Ecochallenge.org and the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium has created a coalition of North American zoos and aquariums to bring this effort to their communities. As the campaign sponsor, Audubon Nature Institute organizes the challenge for our region.
Around 8.8 million tonnes of plastic enter the ocean from land each year (one dump truck full of plastic per minute!), and plastic straws are among the most common types of trash picked up during cleanup beaches.
In fact, there is so much marine debris in the ocean that there is what is called the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”, which is a floating collection of marine debris in the North Pacific Ocean. Trash finds its way into the ocean through landfills and also through trash and waste on land that is washed into waterways by rain. Then, currents and weather push the debris together into two big piles, and since most debris isn’t biodegradable, like plastic, the trash can just gets bigger and bigger. Due to these current patterns, a plastic bottle thrown on the ground in a California coastal town can cross the Pacific to the coast of Japan! And that’s exactly what we can see. In addition to litter visible to the naked eye, the bin is also full of microplastics, which are only visible because they make the water under and around the bin cloudy. Beneath the surface, oceanographers and ecologists recently discovered that around 70% of marine debris sinks to the ocean floor.
An estimated 80% of plastic in the ocean comes from land-based sources, with the remaining 20% coming from boats and other marine sources. However, these percentages vary by region. The Gulf of Mexico contains some of the highest concentrations of microplastics in the world. This is likely the result of inland plastic pollution from the Mississippi River, which drains nearly 41% of the contiguous United States into the Gulf.
Plastic waste can have a significant impact on marine life in the wild, like all the species you see at Audubon Aquarium of the Americas and the sea lions, otters and many birds you see at the Audubon Zoo that serve as ambassadors for their species. Animals can become entangled, resulting in suffocation or drowning. When ingested, plastics can block the digestive tract, leading to starvation.
“Audubon is committed to setting an example for our community when it comes to protecting the environment,” said John Fallon, Audubon’s director of sustainability and coastal conservation. “Since 2017, we’ve gotten rid of plastic straws, eliminated plastic bags in our gift shops, and switched from plastic drink bottles to aluminum cans or bottles, even for water.”
When you sign up for the Plastic Free July Ecochallenge, you choose concrete actions like these to focus on throughout the month, like skipping the straw or bringing reusable bags to the supermarket.
Through an easy-to-use online platform, you can track progress, share successes and challenges with others, and earn points for completed actions. You can also find many helpful suggestions on what steps you can take and sustainable exchanges for commonly used plastic items.
Even if you don’t participate in the challenge, there are simple changes you can make every day to reduce the amount of plastic waste you produce. Say no to plastic bags – these cannot be recycled through typical curbside recycling. And including them in your recycling bin contaminates the entire load, which usually means the load will end up in a landfill. This includes wrapping your recycling in a plastic garbage bag or items such as plastic sandwich/storage bags, cling film, plastic food wrap and bubble wrap. (If you need to get rid of plastic grocery bags, some grocery stores have special collection bins just for that.)
Because these dissolve in microplastics that enter waterways and are ingested by wildlife – and humans – and are frequently contaminated with food, there is no practical way to dispose/recycle these materials that do not harm the environment or wildlife. The best approach is to use them as little as possible and keep them out of your recycling bin. There are many reusable alternatives, such as fabric grocery bags and silicone zippered storage bags or silicone bowl/plate covers.
You can also look for sustainable exchanges for many of your everyday items – many ‘disposable’ items we use in our daily lives now have more durable/reusable alternatives available and they are becoming more available every day . Basically, be wary of anything “disposable” and look for reusable alternatives. Some common things to look for include:
- Shopping bags
- Bottles of water
- Glass Food Storage Containers
- Sustainable Lunch Packing Supplies
- Washable kitchen rags/cloths
- Bottles of cleaning product/detergent (there are brands that sell refills of products like cleaning solution, detergent, dish soap in minimal packaging that can be put in reusable bottles)
- Cosmetics/bath products: more and more brands are making products like shampoo bars (like soap) to eliminate plastic bottles
Join the fight today by registering for July’s Plastic Free Ecochallenge at PlasticFree.EcoChallenge.org and join the “Plastic Free NOLA” team at Audubon Nature Institute. To learn more about Audubon’s sustainability efforts, visit AudubonNatureInstitute.org/Conservation-Programs/Plastic-Pollution