As many of you know, management of plastic waste is a global crisis, making the resulting plastic pollution one of the most pressing problems we face. The good news is we can all make a difference on a daily basis. As part of Earth Day 2018 on April 22, Earth Day Network has released an online Plastics Pollution Calculator for you to calculate the amount of disposable plastic you use in a year and make plans to reduce the waste.
The Ocean Crusaders report that it is now believed that there are 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris in the ocean. Of that mass, 269,000 tons float on the surface, while some four billion plastic microfibers per square kilometer litter the deep sea. Shoppers worldwide are using approximately 500 billion single-use plastic bags per year. This translates to about a million bags every minute across the globe, or 150 bags a year for every person on earth. And the number is rising.
We know that micro-plastics are polluting our drinking water and the fish we eat and also cause health problems. Littered plastic not only kills wildlife but affects the lives of more than 2 billion people living without waste collection.
“Plastic pollution is now an ever-present challenge. We can see plastics floating in our rivers, ocean, and lagoons, littering our landscapes and affecting our health and, the future of billions of children and youth. We have all contributed to this problem – mostly unknowingly – and we must work to reduce and ultimately to End Plastic Pollution,” says Valeria Merino, Vice-President of Global Earth Day at Earth Day Network.
Plastic Use in Australia
According to Ocean Crusaders, Australia alone uses 6.9 billion plastic bags a year of which 3.6 billion are plastic shopping bags.
- If you tied 6.9 billion plastic bags together end on end they would travel around the world 42.5 times.
- Australians dump 36,700 tonnes of plastic bags into our landfill every year. That equates to 4,000 bags a minute or 230,000 per hour and only 10% of Australians take their plastic bags for recycling.
- It costs the Australian government in excess of $4 million to clean up plastic bag litter each year.
- If each Australian family used 1 less plastic bag each week that would be 253 million bags less a year. Yet less than 1% of plastic bags in Australia are reused.
- If you imagine a piece of plastic 1m wide. As a conservative guestimate, a length of this plastic 40km long is produced each day and this is for one brand of toilet paper packaging. For bread you can triple the length (120km long)
SloActive recently published a helpful guide, titled Plastic Pollution: Single Use Plastic Impact on our Oceans, which is a great resource. It details the facts and figures of plastic pollution, the impact on our oceans and marine life, and much more.
EDN is encouraging you to join the fight to reduce plastic pollution as part of its End Plastic Pollution campaign for Earth Day 2018. “You first need to know where you stand,” said Merino. “This plastic pollution calculator will help you determine your total yearly consumption of disposable plastic items.”
The Plastic Pollution Primer and Action Toolkit also on the website, will help you work out the things you can do to reduce your plastic pollution footprint. EDN’s efforts center around the 5 Rs: “Reduce, Refuse, Reuse, Recycle and Remove” actions.
“Once you have learned the benefits of embracing the 5 Rs in your daily lives,” Merino said, “we hope you will create a goal for decreasing your yearly plastic pollution using the Plastic Pollution Tracker available in the Toolkit.”
While recycling plastic waste is important, it is not nearly enough, notes Merino. “You may be lulled into thinking it is OK to consume disposable plastic products because you plan to recycle them, but many plastics can’t be efficiently recycled and will end up in the landfill or littering the planet, even in the most remote places. Also, some localities lack the most basic infrastructure to manage waste and to sort and recycle plastics. For this reason, it is much more important to focus on reducing your own level of plastic consumption,” she adds.
There are a number of things that will lessen your plastics impact:
- Ask yourself every time that you are considering buying a disposable plastic item: Do I absolutely need this? Can I use something else that I already have? Could I buy something that I can use long-term instead?
- Prevent the creation of micro-plastics by properly disposing of plastic products and being careful not to toss plastic products near waterways, beaches or in open spaces.
- Pick up plastic trash whenever you see it, especially in ponds, streams, rivers, and beaches.
- Look up products on the internet and choose not to buy products containing microbeads. Choose products that have natural exfoliators instead.
- Consider changing the way you wash your clothing to reduce the number of microfibers that are released, wash synthetic clothes less frequently, purchasing items made of natural fibers when possible.
Other ways to reduce plastic usage are available online in the Plastic Pollution Primer and Action Toolkit. Head here for all the details