This month is Plastic Free July and many are taking this time to speak about how to live with less plastic. We've focused our message on reducing plastic consumption from the beginning, so we felt compelled to write an article about it this month, with plastic-free living on everyone's mind.
We talk a lot about reducing our own personal plastic consumption, which we think is important for everyone to do (we'll get back to this in the next section). But before we go into that, first let's talk about what we can do on a grander scale. After all, as we've all probably heard said before, "when your bathtub is overflowing, you don't first reach for a mop, you turn off the tap," or in other words - frantically trying to clean up a flood of water is pointless if there's more water continuing to flow out and create more flooding. The metaphor refers to plastic waste, saying that while it is important to clean plastic waste out of our oceans, that it is futile if more plastic waste is dumped in as soon as we finish cleaning. We absolutely have to stop the production of common plastic products, especially those that are made to be used only one time and then thrown away. Plastic recycling is great to extend the lifespan of plastic products that have already been made, but it isn't enough to address the root of the problem. It's just continuing to allow companies to irresponsibly produce plastic items meant for immediate disposal, while we as citizens race to clean up their mess.
A few major corporations that stand out as big-time plastic producers (and polluters) are Nestle, Coca Cola, and PepsiCo. Another big issue regarding plastic waste in the ocean is fishing equipment (which is the largest source of plastic in the ocean). This is due to fishermen using nylon netting and plastic string, as it is less expensive than hemp-based alternatives that were used before the advent of plastic products.
It's just too easy for these producers to get away with creating a disaster of plastic waste that will take hundreds of years to break down in the environment, leaving the burden on us to clean up their pollution, and filling our oceans with trash and destroying ocean life in the process. We need to hold them accountable by communicating with them clearly that we're not okay with their practices, and by creating laws that ban plastic production (from petroleum sources) and specifically the production and use of single-use plastic products.
A big win has been that recently the European Union finally made good on its promise back in 2018 that by 2021, the ten types of single-use plastics most commonly found on European beaches would be banned. This includes plastic food utensils, plates, cups and straws, cotton swabs, Styrofoam cups and containers, plastic bags, packets and wrappers, wet wipes and sanitary items, balloons, and cigarette butts. The ban goes officially into effect on July 3, 2021.
But we need to keep calling on the big companies that produce single-use plastic items to stop producing plastic items completely, not just stop selling them in certain geographical areas (although this is a huge step forward!).
We can do this in a few ways:
1. Sign petitions to show them that large numbers of people are opposed to their policies of increasing plastic production in the coming years, rather than decreasing it
2. Supporting laws and candidates for government offices that aim to ban plastic production
3. Researching, publishing, and promoting studies on the ill effects of plastic in our environment to show that there is an irrefutable problem that needs to be addressed worldwide
4. Asking hard questions such as, "why is it that products in plastic cost less to buy than those in glass," or "why does plastic fishing equipment cost less than the equivalent made from hemp?" "Where can we innovate to rethink plastic use in food packaging?" "From what other renewable resources can we produce plastic?" If the solutions don't exist already, we need to create them.
It's not a choice between thinking big and acting small - we need to do both to fight the plastic problem ravaging our planet. Sometimes people will say that our small actions aren't important because major corporations will still continue to produce plastic items anyway. But we think that this isn't an excuse to not care about what we do on a personal level. While we shouldn't feel the responsibility for having caused plastic pollution upon our own shoulders as individuals, we should do everything we can to combat it, in every way possible. If we stop buying plastic items, it sends a sign to the producers that there is less demand for their products. Without demand, it becomes unprofitable to continue along with business as usual to push plastic products. If enough people stop supporting these companies with their purchases and start turning against them by creating legal momentum to hold them accountable for their unethical business practices, they will have no choice but to change their ways or become obsolete.
Acting small can mean:
-Being mindful about what we buy and use in the home, and our lifestyle in general. For example, how often do we drive when we could walk instead? How far does our food travel to get to us? How does fast food and fast fashion affect our health and our planet's ecosystem? From there, we can take steps to understand environmental issues and reduce our own impact.
-Being prepared when going out, and not falling prey to impulse and convenience purchases. If you know you're going to want a coffee and a sandwich to take on the go at lunchtime, think ahead and bring vessels to carry your food and drinks in. Need to go buy some groceries? Bring cotton mesh reusable bags for fresh produce and larger bags for carrying everything home.
-Using what we already have before buying something new. You don't need to invest in new items from sustainable brands to be kind to the planet - in fact the kindest thing we can do is make use of what we already have on hand (and the most cost-effective way to go as well!) Fix things rather than throwing them away, mend clothes, find new and creative uses for glass jars and old linens.
-Keeping toxic chemicals out of our food, water, soil, air, and bodies. What is good for our health is almost always good for the planet's health as well. Buy organic when possible, and choose products that are made from natural materials when buying new.
-Participate in or organize a beach clean-up or a park clean-up to remove trash in your community from public outdoor spaces.
-Recycle all materials that come into your home. If you have a differentiated recycling system in your community, clean all recyclables and separate accordingly. If you live in a place where all recycling is mixed together, you can make efforts to launch more comprehensive collection programs (separating recyclables in separate bins makes the entire process much easier).
These are just a handful of the ways to think big and act small to live healthier and more in harmony with Mother Earth. There's so much more that we can do and the faster we reverse plastic pollution, the better. Let's stop thinking that our actions don't matter and start realizing that it's up to us to be the change. It's time to stop living in the fog of pollution and start making the alternatives clear and accessible to all. THINK BIG AND ACT SMALL!