Single-use plastics are a significant source of waste in our economy and in your personal life. They include anything that you use and throw away within a single use.
Think of all the plastic containers you encounter today: salad bowls, takeout containers, plastic bags, plastic produce bags, and iced coffee cups.
Now multiply that by how many times a year you use something like that. And multiply THAT number by 9 billion people on the planet. That’s a lot of plastic.
So, What’s the Problem with All of That Plastic?
Plastic is made with petroleum, a fossil fuel. Producing plastic with oil means we are drawing oil out of the earth and making carbon emissions.
Every piece of plastic that has ever been produced is still on earth. It doesn't break down quickly, leaving it on our planet for up to 1,000 years. All of that plastic has to go somewhere, usually the landfill. However, if plastic breaks down without reaching a landfill, it gets into our oceans, food supply, trees, and streets. Studies have found plastic in our bodies.
Also, it’s not recyclable in many cases, so it ends up in waterways and landfills.
Some Facts About Single-Use Plastic
- 14 billion tons of plastic trash is dumped into the ocean EVERY YEAR
- Plastic has been found in 100% of marine turtles
- By 2050, scientists think the ocean will contain more plastic by weight than fish
Companies that have created this excess plastic have abandoned its use at the end of life and the burden of plastic falls to consumers to reduce and recycle where possible.
How Can I Do My Part?
Don’t use individual plastic produce bags at the grocery store. Use mesh bags or skip the bag altogether. Carry a tote in your purse, car, or other bags. Use it for groceries and any shopping trip.
Use a reusable water bottle, instead of purchasing plastic ones.
Look at home food storage and reduce where possible. Try to use glass containers or mesh produce bags. Can you replace traditional plastic Tupperware with glass? When shopping, see if you can purchase an item in bulk versus a single plastic container.
Tally up all the single-use items for one day. Pick two that you can discontinue in the future. This could mean bringing a mug to your coffee shop or getting an ice cream cone instead of a cup. Try it and see what changes you can make.
Finally, when shopping or dining out, engage staff and owners in plastics discussion and request they change to compostable vessels. Takeout is a big source of waste for many people.
Start small, but most of all, start somewhere. An important part of reducing single-use plastics is educating yourself and those around you! Check out these resources to learn more about single-use plastics:
- Every single piece of plastic ever made still exists. Here’s the story.
- Netflix: Broken Docuseries
- America’s 'recycled' plastic waste is clogging landfills, survey finds
- Blueland: Our Mission
- Single-Use Plastics 101
Eliza Erskine has a Master’s in Sustainability from the Harvard Extension School and a BA in Business Administration from Boston University. She founded Green Buoy Consulting in 2018 to help small and early stage businesses with sustainability. She grew up in the Pacific Northwest and lives in New York City.