This month I offer you 20 different ways to use less plastic. Small changes have long term positive effects. It's like saving pennies; to some it's not worth it, and for others (like me) it adds up. Before I know it I have 100 dollars--that's worth it. Healing our planet is also worth it. I challenge you to make at least one behavior change regarding plastic--it makes a difference! So that we can all see our progress and how much fun we're having refusing plastic, let's post our photos on instagram using the hashtag: #lessplastic2016. You can also follow this challenge on Instagram @kindplanet.
What is Plastic?
Plastic is a polymer and is produced from an assortment of polymers ( poly-vinyl chloride, polyethylene, nylon, etc...) and has the amazing (yes I said it) capacity to take on many shapes, thicknesses, and can be hard or soft. Plastic is made from fossil fuels (petroleum & natural gas) which have to be extracted from the earth. This process destroys natural terrain and leads to oil spills which do irreparable damage on the land and the water, while wiping out precious ecosystems and wildlife.
Types of Plastic:
That symbol you may have seen with the number and the chasing arrows on the bottom of plastic items is called a resin identification code. These codes do not mean that these plastic items will be or can be recycled--that all depends on your city and which numbers they accept. For example, in my city they accept numbers 1 through 7, excluding number 6 (polystyrene).
Precycling is the precursor to recycling, and it's one of the best solutions to reduce all around waste, including plastic. Precycling means coming up with creative and effective solutions to prevent waste. Here are some of the ways we can precycle: Limiting our purchases to things that we really need, buying in bulk which can eliminate excess plastic packaging, investing in products that are made to last and designed to be repaired, and sharing our things with others instead of buying new things individually.
Upcycling or repurposing means transforming materials that would otherwise be thrown away into something that has a new established value and purpose. Unlike downcyling, as you will come to find, upcycling gives something equal or greater value. Glass is an example of a material that can be upcycled into the same quality of glass as its original product. A wine bottle can become another wine bottle. This is not so with plastic.
So what happens to our plastics once they get sorted and baled at the recycling center?! The municipality will have to find a buyer for the plastic. That buyer is most likely China. I live in a small city of approx. 60,000 people, and all of our plastics are shipped to China, where they are burned with little to no emission regulation, or they are downcycled in to other plastic products (shirts, laundry baskets, carpets, etc...) and then shipped back to the United States. Not very sustainable. To add to this environmental catastrophe, not all recyclable plastic is recycled. Less than 10% of the plastic thrown into our recycling bins in the United States in 2012 was recycled. If we continue to misuse plastic, there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050. To make matters more grim, there is a huge dip in the plastics market right now, which means that when recycling centers can't find a buyer, the plastic is incinerated or landfilled.
The term downcycling is generally used when talking about the lifecycle of plastics. For example, when pallets of "recycled" PET plastic water bottles are shipped to China, they will be downcycled into a new product like a shirt or a carpet. Those items will be shipped back to the United States and sold. When the shirt and the carpet wear out, they cannot be melted back into plastic water bottles. Their life cycle is pretty much over; they will be landfilled. In other words, unlike glass, the majority of plastic cannot be recycled back into its original product.
Plastic is Forever:
Plastic is not biodegradable. It doesn't go away--it's forever. We just can no longer see some of it because it photodegrades into tiny little pieces called, micro-plastic.
What We Can Do:
- Bring an awareness into our daily routine, and observe our relationship with plastic and how much of it we use.
- Begin to think about how plastic might not be working for us and the planet and use our conclusion as motivation to change our behavior.
- Start making small behavior changes, like refusing plastic straws, bottled water, and plastic produce/grocery bags.
- Smile, because our actions matter, and together we can send less plastic to the ocean and to the landfill. We can transition into a circular economy, one that is not focused on single-use and disposability.