Climate change is one of the most debated topics of 2019. One can even say that it’s somewhat of a hot debate. Why? Because there are still people who don’t believe climate change exists.
How did we get here?
A tendency which is rather prevalent when talking about climate change and statistics on plastic pollution is the pointing of fingers and frustratingly looking for those responsible. Sustainability is often debated on a level that many ordinary consumers feel disconnected from; it is a conversation which involves governments, committees, and quotas.
However, when sustainability becomes a political debate, it loses its relatability. Moreover, when we’re faced with cold hard plastic pollution facts, one can often feel hopeless, especially when solutions do not accompany a list of problems.
One of the biggest problems and the main generator of plastic is consumerism. Bea Johnson, the author of My Zero Waste Home, compares the consumerist mentality to political elections: whenever you buy something, you vote.
Consumers have such a huge amount of power because the majority of changes and regulations happen to satisfy them, therefore bringing profit to whatever producer. It’s basic demand and supply.
As consumers, it is easy to forget how much power lies in our wallets. Whenever we choose to buy a product, we vote yes to everything that defines that product: production, material, packaging, and so on.
With the power of consumerism on our side, it is possible to manifest a shift in priorities and responsibilities, and therefore be a part of a positive impact.
Below, you will find a selection of plastic pollution facts and the best solutions to reducing or even eliminating the main sources of pollution.
Plastic waste in the ocean facts
Plastic pollution is one of the biggest global challenges we face today. Plastic is made from fossil materials which means that it takes thousands of years to break down, still, 50% of all plastic worldwide is produced for single-use purposes.
Most plastic is light, and therefore it floats, which makes it a large threat to our environment and wildlife. One plastic bottle in the ocean will degrade into microplastic and scatter all over the globe, on every mile on every beach in the world.
However, one plastic bottle is not the issue, but with 35 billion water bottles being thrown away every year, in the US alone, these single-use products propose a severe threat to the planet, and thus plastic bottle pollution is not something to be taken lightly (Ecowatch, 2014).
“When sustainability becomes political it loses its relatability.”
This article will provide you with easy steps to minimize your footprint as well as information regarding products which most consumers use on a regular basis. By rethinking how we consume goods, we can collectively change the world for the better.
FACT: You can be an active polluter just by using a certain type of toothpaste.
Some pieces of plastic are so small that they are not visible and they can be found in a large variety of your everyday products. “Microbeads” is a type of microplastic which is manufactured for health and beauty products. Like microplastics, these beads are tiny pieces of plastic (polyethylene) that infiltrate oceans and rivers through our water systems. They are so small that they are difficult to filter and thus, they end up as a damaging component in natural environments (National Ocean Service, 2018).
Microbeads are often added to exfoliating products like scrubs and toothpaste because they provide texture. When the used product is rinsed down the drain, the microbeads propose a vital threat to wildlife. A study found that 87% of water systems on the planet is infiltrated by microplastic and thereby the people who live in contact with the surrounding environment and wildlife are equally affected by it (Thompson, 2018).
There are several measures you can take to avoid microplastics, one of which is opting for natural fibers rather than synthetic fibers. Clothes made of, for instance, polyester retain micro plastic every time they’re washed.
Alternatively, you can also use a mesh wash bag; a bag which filters microfibers and stops them from entering water systems. Furthermore, one can also look for health and beauty products without microbeads. There are plenty of options that do not threat oceans and animals.
FACT: Convenience plastic is one of the main culprits of plastic pollution.
To-go coffee cups, plastic straws, fast food containers, and plastic bags etc. are all designed to be used once and thrown away. One of the problems with disposable packaging is that a lot of trash often ends up in the oceans, even if it is tossed in a bin. A UNEP report from 2016 determined that landfill debris and tourism are the main culprits for plastic pollution. (Plastic Change 2018).
The solution here is easy. Instead of accepting single-use containers and bags, bring your own reusable alternatives – like a lunch box and canvas bags. It is always important, but especially so if you are in nature. In forests or on beaches it is necessary to avoid bringing disposables. Even when appropriately discarded in a bin, the trash may still end up in the surrounding areas due to animal activity and winds.
Many disposable products are, also, completely unnecessary and do not even require an alternative product. Plastic straws and plastic bags are often avoidable simply by drinking from a glass or carrying groceries in your bag.
FACT: Using sunscreen and going for a swim is, basically, the same as throwing plastic on the beach.
Recent studies have found that some of the main ingredients in sunscreen like oxybenzone and octinoxate are directly related to water contamination and coral bleaching. When beachgoers apply sunscreen and head into the water, the chemicals float into the ocean, affecting wildlife along the way.
The coral reefs around Hawaii are exposed to more than 6000 tons of sunscreen every year (Smith, 2018). These reefs are exceedingly sensitive, as well as vital parts of the oceans’ ecosystems, and therefore, it is increasingly salient to avoid further pollution.
A solution to this issue is choosing a mineral sunscreen that does not contain nano zinc dioxide and generally by applying as few products on the skin as possible, before entering the water.
FACT: We’re almost drowning in plastic bottles.
It is estimated that 1 million plastic bottles are being sold every minute worldwide, and furthermore, it is estimated that this statistic will increase by 20% before 2021 (Laville & Taylor 2017).
Plastic bottles are one of the biggest components of plastic pollution, even though the solution is simple.
Refuse, reuse, refill. Bringing your own water bottle, or refilling the same bottle over and over is a really simple, but effective way, of becoming more sustainable. Although plastic bottles are made from the plastic type PET, which is highly recyclable, only 7% of collected bottles were turned into new bottles in 2016. Recycling is therefore not as good an option to rely on as simply refusing and reusing is.
FACT: Freebies and other promotional materials generate a ton of unwanted plastic.
There are a ton of products that are made to promote events or companies. These products are often handed out for free to support the cause, however, they are absolutely damaging for our environment. These items can be pens, balloons, badges, t-shirts, flyers or small samples in disposable packaging. By graciously accepting these gifts, the demand is kept alive.
Try refusing, saying no thank you, or remarking that it is due to the unnecessary plastic that you choose not to accept promotional items.
Balloons are especially bad, even though they are often made from natural latex materials; they will always be treated with ammonia, tetramethyl thiuram disulfide and/or zinc oxide as a preservative against bacterial decomposition and small amounts of plasticizer which makes them unable to break down in nature (Hibbard, 1990). Therefore they end up on being swallowed by animals or they will slowly turn into microplastics when left behind (Barboza, 2010).
FACT: Every single one of us can contribute to saving the planet.
Now that it has been remarked that even when tossed in bins, plastic waste is still a threat to the surrounding environment, it only seems sensible to mention plogging. Whenever you see trash laying around there is no way to tell whether it is litter or whether a bird or a wind has whirled it away.
If everyone picked up 5 pieces of trash every day, we would see a major difference in ocean pollution, because a significantly smaller amount of trash would make it to the oceans. You can also participate in ocean clean up events or go plogging (picking up trash while jogging), which is both good exercise and a sustainable activity.
The Bottom Line
Becoming greener is seldom about giving up every habit; it is about learning about the unquestionable plastic pollution facts that will only increase if left unattended.
Choosing another brand of toothpaste, another brand of sunscreen or refusing a free balloon are all viable ways of implementing a sustainable consciousness into your life. It is not difficult, but it is necessary.
Start by checking out if your products at home have microbeads in them, or find out if your clothes are made of synthetic materials. Solve the issues, one problem at a time, and let’s all make an extra effort to keep over forests green, our oceans blue and our wildlife save.
-  Barboza, Rebecca, 2010: https://www.balloonsblow.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Floating-Menace.pdf
-  Beresford, Nick, 2018: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/06/how-to-fight-our-plastic-problem
-  Gabbatiss, Josh, 2018: https://www.independent.co.uk/environment/sunscreen-pollution-beaches-toxic-marine-life-fish-france-titanium-dioxide-tio2-a8496426.html
-  Hibbard, Peter, 1990: https://www.nytimes.com/1990/04/01/nyregion/l-balloons-effect-on-the-environment-867890.html
-  Lavilla, Sandra, 2017: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jun/28/a-million-a-minute-worlds-plastic-bottle-binge-as-dangerous-as-climate-change
-  Morley, Katie, 2017: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/06/07/return-microbeads-scientists-invent-new-eco-friendly-version/
-  Mwamba, Seneo, 2018: https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/plastic-pollution-facts/
-  Ocean Conservatory, 2018: https://oceanconservancy.org/blog/2018/05/24/sunscreen-killing-coral-reef/
-  Plastic Change, 2018 https://plasticchange.org/about-plastic-change/
-  The World Counts, 2016: http://www.theworldcounts.com/stories/Plastic-Waste-Facts
-  Thompson, Andrea, 2018 https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/from-fish-to-humans-a-microplastic-invasion-may-be-taking-a-toll/
-  Ecowatch 2014, https://www.ecowatch.com/22-facts-about-plastic-pollution-and-10-things-we-can-do-about-it-1881885971.html