A recent documentary on PBS on plastic pollution shocked me with something called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. According to a 2018 research study, approximately “79 thousand tonnes (a metric ton equals 2,204.62 pounds) of ocean plastic are floating inside an area 1.6 million km2 (approximately 397 square miles); a figure four to sixteen times higher than previously reported” Lebreton, et al, 2018. Scientific Reports volume 8, Article number: 4666 https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-22939-w.
Sadly, we all contribute to plastic pollution because plastics are major part of our daily lives. For example, “The 450 billion disposable diapers used each year (worldwide) contribute nearly 77 million tons of solid waste to landfills, and a disposable diaper takes at least 500 years to degrade (www.worldwatch.org/system/files/M-A%2007%20Life-cycle.pdf). Even gum is made of plastic.
Plastic trash in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch ranges in size from large to microscopic. While plastics eventually degrade into smaller pieces, including microplastics, they never go away completely. Plastic marine debris harms fish and wildlife when they eat it (direct impact) or when pollutants, such as PCBs, are accumulated within an animal’s system (indirect impact). Microplastics have also been found in drinking water.
What can we do? We can limit our purchase of things packed in plastic; for example, buying laundry soap in a box rather than in a plastic bottle. We can wear natural fabrics rather than synthetics, which put microplastics into the waste stream each time they’re washed. We can use cloth shopping bags. We can buy only unwrapped produce and take our own paper bags to put produce in. We can buy milk in cardboard cartons, bulk coffee in paper bags and peanut butter in glass containers. We can purchase toilet paper that’s individually wrapped in paper rather than in all the plastic it usually comes in. We can wrap our sandwiches in wax paper rather than putting them in plastic bags. Here’s an ingenious idea — put old junk mail in packages for shipping instead of bubble wrap. Rechargeable batteries are a good choice for reducing plastic waste too.
We can choose reusable items over disposable ones. We can stop using plastic straws, even in restaurants. Let’s bring our own ceramic or metal bottles for water and quit purchasing water in plastic bottles. We can avoid buying food in single serving cups. We can select a refillable razor over a disposable one. For more information, see the Green Education Foundation website: www.greeneducationfoundation.org/nationalgreenweeksub/waste-reduction-tips/tips-to-use-less-plastic.html.
Completely eliminating plastics in our daily life is infeasible, but we can reduce our plastic footprints.
JoAnne Skelly is associate professor and Extension educator emerita at University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. E-mail email@example.com.