Why should you go plastic-free?
Plastic Pollution Begins at the Source
Despite living in a landlocked state, Coloradoans still have a love of all things water; you can scuba dive at Blue Mesa Lake and explore a sunken town, enjoy the thrills of white-water rafting, or take everything in at a leisurely pace with stand up paddle boarding. All that water will eventually end up out at sea, but being land locked, we often don’t see what impact our actions have on the ocean. Plastic, of course, is the exception.
Plastic is perpetually coming back to bite humanity. We have now siphoned so much trash into the ocean, not only is it the most common marine debris , it’s beginning to find its way back to us in the fish we eat. Plastic degrades over a very long span of time, which gives plenty of opportunities for natural forces like wave action to break it into smaller and smaller pieces. These so called Microplastics, any plastic particle below 5 mm, are becoming increasingly prevalent in our planet's waters . While steps have been taken to prevent purposefully introducing more microplastics into the environment, such as the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015, it isn’t enough; all the plastic already present in the ocean is breaking into pieces, and those pieces are being eaten by marine life.
Plastic is the New Mercury for Sealife
The United Nations conducted a study in 1977 and 2016 documenting marine species with plastic in their digestive tracts, and found that in the 39-year gap, there was a 69% increase in the number of species affected . Toxins accumulate the higher up the food chain you go; a small fish consumes a contaminant, slightly bigger fish eat many small fish and gain their accumulated contaminants, then a bigger fish comes along etc., until you’ve reached the top of the chain. Tuna, for example, a top predator, is notorious for mercury levels. Plastic follows in the footsteps of mercury, as it is not an exception to the rule. In a sampling of canned tuna and mackerel, 80% of the cans contained at least one microplastic piece, most often fibers . This brings up the question of how microplastics are impacting human health.
You may already be aware of the chemicals that can leach from plastic into food stuffs and water; if you remember BPA and the scandal it caused in the 2000’s, you’re already familiar. That is why microplastics in our food is such a concern. Scientists still aren’t sure what unintentionally ingesting plastic could do, and as of 2016, “90% of US seafood was imported from geographic regions with significant waste leakage and pelagic plastic pollution” . With that in mind, some people feel the correct course of action is simply to avoid eating fish; however, this is not possible for millions of people the world over where fish is a staple protein.
In the end, it doesn’t matter if you avoid fish; plastic has even gotten into our oceans salt. Researchers in China found that in commercially available sea salt, there were 550-681 particles of plastic per kilogram . In the U.S., commercially available sea salt averaged 212 particles per kilograms (this study also looked at beer produced in the Great Lakes regions. Yep, plastic was in there too) .
Start with Simple but Significant Actions
There is no escaping this problem of plastic, anywhere in the world. Finding a solution must be an effort that we are all participating in. Going plastic-free is one of the best ways to enact positive change quickly. Switching to re-usable options whenever you can greatly reduces the amount of plastic waste you produce. Performing a targeted trash audit can help you keep track.
Keep a log of how many plastic bags you use for a week and calculate how much that stacks over the course of a year. The following week, keep track of the same while using reusables, like a sandwich wrap instead of a sandwich bag and compare results. Imagine that seemingly small difference stacking over the course of a lifetime... the difference using reusables makes will lift a weight off your shoulders (Re-usable options like cloth wraps have the added benefit of not being created from fossil fuels, so even from the get-go they have a lower environmental impact than plastics do).
Just as personally avoiding eating fish won’t stop you from ingesting plastic, reducing personal plastic use is no substitute for supporting and demanding legislation that bans single use plastics. Keep an eye on your local legislations, and when you don’t see the changes you want, take the initiative to organize for change. It’s going to take all of us to undo the mess of our plastic problem, but it is doable with habit changes and hard work.
Khala & Company is here for you on Earth Day and every day to provision and motivate you! Keep in touch with us about how your plastic-free efforts are going by tagging us on social media or writing us a note to email@example.com.