What’s wrong with single use plastic and what you can do about it.
Because plastic lasts for so long, every single piece of plastic ever made still exists, and will continue to do so for at least 500 years. Add to this that most Westerners throw away roughly 600 times their body weight in plastic throughout their lifetimes (this statistic is based on research from America, but is likely to be around the same in Australia and many other countries, too). Multiply that by the eight billion people on earth, and you’ve got a heck of a lot of plastic waste.
Where does it all go? How does that single use plastic water bottle affect our environment and us after we’re finished with it? These are important questions for us to consider for the sake of the health of our planet.
Much like gaseous waste punctures ozone layer holes over certain geographic locations, plastic waste is drawn to certain parts of the ocean. There are at least five offshore plastic accumulation zones in the world’s oceans, with the largest measuring an estimated 1.6 million square kilometres. That’s roughly double the size of New South Wales, Australia.
While nobody pays rent for these free-floating garbage islands, we all pay for it in terms of our environment, health and wellbeing.
The organisms that are usually responsible for breaking down organic materials are not able to decompose plastic. Instead, plastics undergo a process called photodegradation, in which sunlight breaks plastic down into many tiny particles.
Plastic floating in the ocean has a much greater exposure to sunlight than plastic piled up in a landfill. In the ocean, plastic can be exposed to enough sunlight to photodegrade in as little as a year.
While photodegradation may help shrink the size of these floating dumps, breaking down this man-made substance has several hazardous consequences. The tiny plastic particles that are dispersed through photodegradation are composed of toxic chemicals. These toxic molecules easily make their way into the food chain via sea and land animals, and wind up on our plates and in our water supply. Even if we filter our water and avoid eating animals, sea salt around the world has been contaminated by plastic pollution. So it’s past time to do something about this!
It’s likely you’re already eating plastic
There are chemicals in plastic that can easily be transferred to your food by microwaving things in plastic, eating canned food lined in plastic lacquer, drinking bottled water, etc. The most commonly used chemical is phthalates, which is what makes plastics soft and pliable. Phthalates are not chemically bound to plastic, so they can easily get transferred to other things. Some problems from ingesting this chemical are premature births, asthma, cancer, miscarriage, male infertility, premature breast development, and abnormal male sexual development.
“Everybody is being exposed to phthalates to some degree at any given time, from gestation through death,” researchers from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Arizona State University wrote in 2013.
What can you do?
Despite plastic’s omnipresent toxicity, there IS something you can do. Reducing the amount of plastic you use might seem difficult, but it’s simpler than you think.
Here are some easy ways you can reduce your plastic footprint:
- Bring your own green bags and produce bags to the supermarket.
- Stop buying plastic toothbrushes; purchase eco friendly wooden ones instead.
- Use metal razors with refillable blades.
- Stop using straws altogether, or buy a metal one.
- Quit using plastic cutlery.
- Stop buying products with micro beads in them (often found in skincare products).
- Recycle your soft plastics at your nearest Redcycle drop off point.
- Wash your recyclables before chucking them into the recycle bin (contaminated waste is not able to be recycled).
- Find a local Precious Plastics recycling centre to take part in giving your used plastics a second life.
- Refill your toiletries and cleaning supplies at local bulk food shops.
- Store your baking supplies in refillable glass containers.
- Use a hankie instead of portable tissue packs.
- Stop using cling wrap and make your own wax wraps instead.
DIY wax wrap recipe
- Beeswax or Candelilla wax (a more sustainable, vegan option)
- Jojoba oil
- Pine or any another type of tree resin
- Tightly woven cotton fabric (think bed sheets)
- A baking tray
- A paintbrush you don’t mind ruining
- A double boiler or a small pot of water with a metal or glass bowl to place on top.
- Start by cutting two pieces of fabric. This recipe makes roughly two 40cm x 40cm squares.
- Fill the base of the double boiler (or pot) with water, and turn on the stove. Put your bowl (or pot) on top of the double boiler base. Measure and put in 3 tbsp. wax, 1 tsp. oil and 1 tsp. resin. Stir the mix with your paintbrush.
- Get out your baking tray and make sure the entire piece of fabric will fit on it. If not, you can cut your fabric to fit and make more smaller wraps.
- Turn on the oven. 200˚ C or so should do it.
- Once the mixture in the double boiler is melted, paint it onto your fabric on the baking sheet. Be sure to get all the edges covered with the mixture. Don’t worry if it begins to harden or looks lumpy at this stage.
- Once the fabric is coated with the mixture, put the tray into the oven for 1-2 minutes.
- Take the tray out of the oven and use your brush to even out your ‘paint’ job on the fabric. Then peel the fabric off the baking sheet and hang to dry. I like to use clothes pegs and hang them on a clothes rack.
That’s it! Use this wax-coated-cloth instead of plastic cling wrap. If you get it dirty, don’t stress, just wash it with cool water and gentle soap. Wax wraps last for months, even years, if treated right. Think of all the plastic and money you could avoid wasting by using them.
If you would like to make a pouch for a sandwich or other snacks, you can sew on some buttons and/or use a hair tie to keep your wax wrap closed. It sticks well to itself, and has the added bonus of being antibacterial – thanks to the jojoba oil and beeswax.
It’s important to be conscious about what you’re consuming and how it’s affecting your life and your environment, as well as the world at large.
To learn more about how you can do your part in reducing the harmful effects of plastic, check out the links below:
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