Caring for the Earth: Plastics
Microsteps are small, incremental, science-backed actions we can take that will have both immediate and long-lasting benefits to the way we live our lives. ~ Arianna Huffington, Thrive Global
In honor of both Earth Day and Dolphin Project’s birthday (April 22), we’re looking at ways we can fine-tune our daily habits to help protect our planet. In this blog, we’re focusing on our use of plastics.
You might have read of two recent instances in March where whales washed up dead, their stomachs filled with plastics. In the Philippines, a Cuvier’s beaked whale was found with 88 pounds of plastic inside its stomach, and in Sardinia, Italy, a pregnant sperm whale was found dead with almost 50 pounds of the deadly material in its body. Amongst the items found were fishing nets and lines, tubes, rice sacks, grocery bags, garbage and other all-purpose plastic bags, tubes, banana plantation bags and a bag of washing machine liquid.
Similar discoveries have been made in 2018 in Spain, Indonesia and Thailand. Several politicians, including Sergio Costa, the Environmental Minister of Italy is calling for a war on disposable plastics. In many locations across the world, bans have been enacted on plastic bags, cutlery, straws, stirrers and other single-use plastics. Yet despite these interventions, it is estimated that more than 8 million tonnes of plastic leak into the ocean each year, wreaking havoc on marine wildlife, fisheries and tourism. According to some estimates, by 2050, the world’s oceans will carry more single-use plastic than fish.*
*Source: United Nations Environment Programme
As deadly as large plastic items are to marine life and their ecosystems, so are microplastics – small, plastic pieces less than five millimeters long. Primary microplastics are designed to be small, such as tiny beads of manufactured polyethylene found in toothpaste and other personal care items. Secondary microplastics are plastics that have degraded over time from larger pieces into progressively smaller ones. In both instances, the small particles make their way into the oceans and the Great Lakes.
Watch a short video on microplastics, credit: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
There are many simple behaviors we can partake in on a regular basis – some that can easily become daily habits – to help protect the world upon which we, and all other species live. We’ve compiled a brief list for you but we encourage you to brainstorm and create others. It’s these microsteps that when combined, can create positive, long-lasting change.
- Start your morning with a cup of coffee? Use ground beans versus single coffee pods and if possible, recycle the used coffee grounds. If visiting your local coffee shop, bring your own mug – you might even get a discount for doing so!
- Be a conscious consumer – Make a point of avoiding plastic packaging, excess packaging and buying individual items wrapped in plastic. Don’t be shy about asking your local grocery store to stop wrapping individual food items in plastic. Are there any businesses you can think of that make a point of using minimal packaging and if so, consider supporting them with your hard-earned dollars. Consider making bulk purchases and always bring your own reusable bags. There are also great alternatives to plastic wrap and plastic storage baggies, including glass containers, reusable storage bags and natural food wraps.
- BYOB – Bring your own refillable water bottle instead of carrying around a plastic water bottle. Besides cutting down on waste, think of the money you’ll save in the long run.
- Dining out? Be sure to decline plastic ware at restaurants if you’re getting food to go (most restaurants automatically toss in plastic utensils). Request minimal to-go packaging or if you’re dining out, bring your own reusable container to bring home your leftovers. Consider bringing your own kit of utensils if you’re heading out to lunch.
- Make it a family affair – Support a cause you feel passionate about by shopping for eco-friendly gear such as eco-friendly totes and reusable straws. There are also great bar soaps and shampoos that don’t require a plastic bottle! They are also perfect for travel.
- Educate – Planning a birthday party or attending another event? Be sure to skip the balloons as they pose serious risks to wildlife. Be sure to tell your guests why!
- Participate – Coordinate or participate in a clean-up of your local waterway. Earth Day is every day and doing something good for yourself or others is always timely!
- Reduce, Reuse and Recycle – Reduce the amount of waste your family generates and consider composting. Educate yourself on local recycling laws. A large amount of recyclables are inadvertently contaminated with soiled or non-recyclable items, which leads large amounts to be trashed as waste.
- Attend a council or committee meeting of your local government and ask what laws/by-laws exist regarding single-use plastics.
- Don’t litter – and if you see someone else’s garbage, take a moment to pick it up and dispose of it responsibly.
Collectively, if we implement even one or two of these habits each day, not only will we help to protect marine life and their environments by reducing plastic pollution, we can contribute towards a healthier lifestyle, foster stronger community ties and enjoy a greater sense of well-being. When we do good, we feel good and this positive feedback encourages us to do more.
Featured image: Pieces of plastic wash ashore after a storm, Ocean Beach, San Francisco, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license; user: Kevin Krejci