Do you remember a store clerk asking you if you wanted paper or plastic? Paper bags were phased out as they were more expensive to produce, took up space and had no handles. Killing trees didn’t seem like a primary consideration. However, we now have plastic bags; and instead of killing trees, we are killing the planet, including land and sea animals that carelessly ingest discarded bags and other forms of plastic. For example, beached whales have been found with over 200 pounds of plastic inside.
Plastic is everywhere. It’s in everything, including us. Newborn babies have been found to have microparticles of plastic in their bloodstream. According science.org, “…over the past 50 years, plastics have saturated our world and changed the way we live.” In the second half of the 1800s, inventors were looking for a substitute for ivory because the only way to get it was by killing wild elephants. Unfortunately, although plastic has become a substitute for elephant ivory, wild elephants are still poached for their tusks. (In some areas the tusks of wild elephants have been removed so that poachers do not kill them and these tusks are then burned).
World War II saw an escalation in the production of plastic products as a means of preserving scarce natural resources. Unfortunately, what makes plastic so incredibly useful and durable also makes it difficult to dispose of. Some plastic products can take tens of thousands of years to degrade in landfills. Plastics began to fall out of favor from the 1960s when it became apparent that they were polluting our land, water and us. “Plastic also gradually became a word used to describe what was cheap, flimsy or fake. In The Graduate , Dustin Hoffman’s character was pushed by an old acquaintance to pursue a career in plastics. The public recoiled… at what they saw as misplaced enthusiasm for an industry that, rather than being full of possibilities, was a symbol of cheap conformity and superficiality. (science.org) Unfortunately, we seem to have gotten over our dissatisfaction with the quality of plastics and their effect on the planet, as thousands more plastic products have hit the market since this movie was released.
To ease consumer concerns about plastic pollution, the plastics industry has launched a campaign to recycle plastic products, but this has by no means stopped plastic debris from ending up in landfills, off our land. and out of our waters. And recycling does not reduce the amount of fossil fuels, the raw material needed to make plastic products, industry must first create plastic items.
We can avoid certain plastic products in our lives, but we have to be savvy consumers to do so. For example, plastics are in our clothes. The only way to avoid plastic in the form of microfibers in our clothes and other fabric items is to opt for natural fabrics like wool, cotton and linen, although wool has its drawbacks as it is of an animal product and that animals should not have to suffer for our convenience. But that only covers fabrics. What about the rest of our lives where we find plastic at every turn? What can we do? Eliminating single-use plastics, such as shopping bags, straws and water bottles, will go a long way towards reducing our use of plastics in our daily lives.
From the grocery store (and any other store you frequent), you can control how much plastic you use. Bring your own canvas and string bags. Of course, there will be times when what you buy might spill over, so using a plastic bag is a good alternative. But that’s just it: plastic bags should be an alternative to your usual shopping bags. You say recycle your plastic shopping bags. But why be part of the environmental problem of their production in the first place. By reusing canvas bags and string bags, we are not bringing plastic bags into our homes where they will not all make it to the recycling bin.
When we think of reducing our dependence on plastics, think of reduce, reuse, recycle. Reducing our addiction to plastic products should be our go-to behavior. For example, straws. Plastic straws pollute our environment. Some restaurants require you to ask for a straw, but most still don’t. You have to be the concerned consumer and let them know you don’t want straw. Again, be part of the solution, not part of the pollution. And then there are the plastic bottles. Do you realize that you might be drinking microplastics with your drink? Buy reusable bottles to avoid adding to plastic pollution. If your tap water isn’t palatable, invest in a home water filtration device.
By using canvas or mesh bags for shopping and refusing to use straws and plastic bottles, your carbon footprint will be reduced. Our climate, our world, needs all of us to reduce our footprint, otherwise we won’t have a healthy, vibrant world full of natural wonders; instead we will have a world of plastic pollution.
— Ginnie R. Maurer lives in Falling Waters and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org