What Everybody Ought to Know About Plastic

 

There are not many places to turn without seeing plastic. It is literally everywhere and unfortunately in our oceans. I took a trip to New York last week where I was invited to be a part of Wildlife Conservation Film Festival’s screening event of A Plastic Ocean in Brooklyn, NY.

 Plastic has become such a big part of our lives and we hardly know its effects. Films like Craig Leeson’s were 7 years in the making but are right on time and a big eye opener. One key takeaway after the film was that we are really far away from change but at the same time we are very close. Let me explain. 

At the end of the screening there was a Q&A session. In this Q&A session Craig made it clear that it was hard to avoid plastic. He was in Austin, Texas trying to get his food served in anything but plastic but was really having a difficult time. He made it a point to pronounce this challenge and it resonated with me.

 He mentioned how could the average consumer be aware or even educated about the issues around plastic when it was hard for him to do it. This statement let me know that we have many steps to take but at the same time we have a remarkable opportunity because of the internet and modern technology. Here are some fun or startling facts however you prefer.

What. The past 70 years have seen a surge in plastic production. We are now up to 300 million tons of plastic. Half of this is for single use and 8 million tons of it will be dumped into the ocean this year.  If you need a visual, that is equivalent to five grocery bags per every foot of coastline around the globe.                  

Why. No secrets here. Plastic is widely used because it is cheap and versatile. Half of the plastic that is made is only used once and thrown away. At some point in history it became more likely that we would throw away items and buy new ones.   Plastic is perfect for this. Use it once and throw it away. The problem is it doesn’t go away. It can take hundreds of years to degrade.

Who. Packaging is a big consumer of plastic. This figure is as high as 40% according to experts. It is the largest end use market for plastic. The problem with plastic is that it doesn’t go away. It may go away from us as we throw it away but it becomes someone else’s problem, or our children’s problem, and even our own problems.

How. There are an estimated 1 trillion plastic bags used every year around the world. The estimate is 1 million bags used per minute. The “working life” of a plastic bag averages 15 minutes. We’ve made more plastic in recent years than the whole last century.

When. In 2014, 100 billion plastic bottles were sold in the US. That is about 300 bottles for every person. In 1996 there were significantly fewer bottles sold, 3.7 billion.

The film does an excellent job of keeping the viewer up to date with the water statistics that are happening in real time. For example, 15 minutes into the film we were briefed on how much plastic had been dumped into the ocean while we were watching. So what’s next and what can we do?

This is a point that should be talked about and even debated.   Some feel that marketing and salesmanship got us into this mess.   It would be a logical approach to use these same tactics to get us out, right? Plastic was promoted as a something that was good for us when it was still earlier in its evolution.

Others believe in the grass roots movement that consumers can impact. Business minds believe there are economic answers to the problem. The truth is all of the solutions can work. It is a combination of them all. We all have power where we are whether we are individual consumers or corporate managers of large CPG brands (consumer packaged goods). It takes collaboration and commitment.

 For those who want to get their fingernails dirty with work here are some things you might try right now.

  1. Drink filtered tap water. Refill a BPA free water bottle.
  2. Purchase used items. This could be repurposed furniture, clothing, electronics, etc.
  3. Reuse tableware. Host a party with reusable plates and cloths napkins.
  4. Avoid disposable. Don’t give into the “throw away” economy. This includes plastic utensils, pens, razors, batteries, etc.
  5. Talk to your grocery store management. Ask for options on recycled packaging and encourage bulk items.
  6. Plastic plant pots. Ask the nursery to take back plastic plant pots. When businesses have to deal with the waste they create it will challenge their procurement processes.
  7. Metal and wood. Choose metal or wood when you can. Think metal and wood toys, jewelry, etc.
  8. Rent items for short periods when you can. Take advantage of the sharing economy.
  9. Purchase goods made from recycled materials. Choose products that help the planet over products that do not.
  10. Reach out to manufacturers to encourage them to make recycled packaging. Advise them to make multi use packaging.

Conclusion. This plastic problem did not happen over night and it will not be solved overnight. The best thing to do is to be aware and to start a conversation. If you have already done this then it is time to act. You can make a difference don’t underestimate the impact of your choices as a consumer. For more information and tips to reduce and eliminate plastic waste, follow us at here.