We produce over 300 million tonnes of plastic every year, a number that is expected to almost triple to over 1,100 million tonnes by 2050 at current rates. And that poses a significant problem for a sustainable global environment.
Earth Day 2018 aims to highlight the growing problem of global plastic use. Our oceans alone suffer almost 8 million tonnes of plastic pollution each year according to the United Nations, leading to over 5 trillion pieces of plastic floating around in this fragile ecosystem. That pollution is poisoning marine life, damaging precious ecosystems, and ultimately entering our global food chain.
Plastics also offer an added energy burden to this global problem. They are created through energy intensive refining and processing of fossil fuels. In 2014 it’s estimated plastic production accounted for 6% of global oil consumption. By 2050, predictions suggest that will rise to 20%. Globally, the plastic producing chemical and petrochemical industry is the single largest industrial energy user, responsible for 28% of industrial final energy consumption in 2014. It’s not just what we do with it, it’s the process of creating plastic that impacts a sustainable ecosystem.
When it comes to global challenges, you don’t need to have a global perspective to do your part. So here are 10 simple ways you can reduce plastic use in your daily life.
A simple plastic bottle can take up to 450 years to decompose. That means a bottle you discard today could still be floating around beyond the turn of the 25th century. There’s not always an opportunity to fill a spare bottle with fresh water, but every opportunity you have and use is one less bottle polluting our environment.
Go out for a tasty drink but offered a straw? Just say no. Plastic straws are one of the most common types of litter found in our oceans, and with studies showing over 90% of seabirds found with plastic in their guts, it’s easy to see the problem this waste can cause.
Globally it’s estimated we use as many as 1 trillion plastic bags annually. You don’t need a plastic bag every time you go to the shops, just keep a sturdy re-usable bag with you and be prepared for the occasion.
Every year billions of disposable coffee cups are thrown away, unable to be recycled, creating a mountain of waste. Carrying your own cup not only reduces litter, some major coffee chains are even starting to offer discounts to customers who use them. That’s a victory for everyone.
It’s not always easy to avoid plastic packaging, but where you can, you should. Take paper bags instead of plastic in a grocery store if possible, and avoid pre-packaged vegetables in favour of loose products. It’s all about embracing the opportunity when you can.
Plastic cutlery is another area of waste that’s not always easy to dodge, but where you can, you should. If you’re a food vendor why not try stocking wooden or washable cutlery instead? If you know you’re going out to eat, why not take your own cutlery and take it home to wash and re-use next time? Again, it’s all about making the most of the opportunity.
Microbeads are tiny plastic beads used in a wide range of beauty products, and they’re causing a big problem in our oceans. Countries around the world are increasingly recognising the harm and banning the use of these tiny microplastics. We’re not there yet in Malaysia, but a quick check of health products before you buy them should ensure that at least you can make an informed decision.
Plastic diapers offered a revolution in safe, effective hygiene for babies, but now that revolution is rolling backwards. If you’ve got the time, and the patience, cloth diapers not only reduce plastic waste, they can also offer a significant lifetime cost saving.
Disposable razors are the sharp edge of unnecessary plastic use. Why not switch to a fixed blade, or a blade that only requires disposable blades rather than a fully disposable razor? Shaving with an increased social conscience makes for a better day all round.
Our final point isn’t so much about what we use, it’s about our own actions in helping tackling plastic pollution. If you see litter, particularly around waterways or beaches, pick it up and dispose of it in the best way possible. Not all plastic use can be avoided, but the better we do at recycling, or at least disposing of it appropriately, the more we ensure we’re part of the solution, and not contributing to a growing global problem.