We live in a disposable culture of single-use plastics that were made as the ultimate in convenience for humans. We can store food – mess-free and – for longer periods of time, package various products we can keep and open at any time, buy our groceries and have everything neatly packaged and easy to bring around, and order food to go and simply throw It all away when we’re done with it. Things like plastic straws, cups, bags, water bottles have become so in-grained in our society that we can barely imagine a life without them.
However, the very reason that made plastics such an effective solution to our needs is the very reason it’s become a very big problem. See, plastic takes a LONG time to degrade – like more than 400 years for that McDonald’s takeout cup you threw out to disappear. Everything else has been piling up in landfills and floating around in our oceans. It’s been predicted by many scientists that by 2050, the world’s oceans could contain more plastic than fish. And what does that mean for us? It means the endangerment and even extinction of a myriad of marine species due to entanglement and ingestion of plastics.
And what of recycling?
Recycling has long been the world’s answer to this disposable culture. We stop feeling so bad about throwing away our single use plastics because hey, they can just recycle it and it’s not really our problem anymore. However, according to a study published by Great Britain’s Royal Statistical Society, only about 9% of plastic is actually recycled. This is incredibly disappointing considering that in the 60 years since we started using plastic, we’ve amassed more than 8 billion metric tons of it, most of it single-use plastic that was used for that one meal or that one drink. Worse still, a lot of this plastic is leaking out into our oceans. It’s been predicted that by 2050, the oceans will contain more plastic waste than fish.
Controlling the amount of plastic waste we produce is going to require a massive shift in the way we live our lives. We rarely think about that plastic bag to carry our groceries (average use of a plastic bag is 15 minutes), the takeout containers (think fast food, milk tea, etc), or water bottles we buy just to drink one serving of water (more than 60 million water bottles are disposed of EVERY DAY), all in the name of convenience.
It’s going to require getting into the habit of bringing reusable containers for getting takeout food, using real dishes instead of disposables when dining, bringing your own water bottles wherever you go, and opting for products with little to no packaging (there’s been an increase in zero waste stores, such as Ritual and Humble Market, that provide package-less options so you live more sustainably). It’s going to require mindfulness in each of our decisions every day.