When you get an iced coffee on your way to work, it comes in a plastic cup with a plastic straw. When you order takeout, it comes with plastic utensils wrapped in a plastic bag. Many of your groceries come wrapped or contained in plastic, as well as your toiletries. It seems almost impossible to avoid plastic in everyday life. But when you throw this plastic away, where does it end up?
Unfortunately, a lot of it ends up in the ocean. Now think of the reality of the situation: that beach is littered with plastic, and under those beautiful waves hide millions of tons of plastic and microplastics.
The End of Recycling?
All of those cups, straws, and packaging add up fast. For over 25 years, China took in 45 percent of the world’s plastic waste imports. At the beginning of 2018, it refused to take any more. Because of this, most of the recycled plastic in the United States is likely ending up in local landfills rather than truly being recycled. This is on top of all of the plastic that is already thrown away instead of recycled.
It is thought that China’s new policy will displace up to 111 metric tons of plastic by 2030. 1 Tons of plastic used to be shipped to China and made into bags, shoes, and new plastic products. Because of China’s new policy, waste-management companies are forced to pay much higher rates to get dispose of the plastic. Unfortunately, most companies are choosing to simply throw it away due to budget concerns.
All of this is happening at a point in time where the United States is creating more waste than ever before. In 2015, the U.S. produced 262.4 million tons of waste, which is 60 percent higher than in 1985. This is an average of almost five pounds of plastic per person per day. 2
Where Does All the Plastic Go?
Large chain stores make it all too easy to buy cheap products, throw them away, and then buy new ones. Quite a bit of this plastic ends up in landfills, but more than you can imagine ends up as plastic pollution.
Take a look out your window the next time you drive down a highway. More often than not, the side of the highway is littered with plastics—soda bottles, chip bags, and disposable cups. The same is unfortunately true for beaches and many other natural areas. As this plastic pollution is let out into nature, a lot of it ends up in waterways.
Tiny plastic beads such as the ones used in toothpaste and facial scrubs are known as microplastics and are also polluting waterways. Approximately eight million tons of plastic are thrown into the ocean every year, 236,000 tons of which are microplastics. This number is set to increase tenfold by the year 2020. By 2050, it is estimated that—by weight—there will be more plastic than the oceans than fish. 3
How Does This Affect Humans?
Over the past ten years, humans have produced more plastic than in the entire last century. Fifty percent of plastic that humans use is only used once before being thrown away. Furthermore, enough plastic is thrown away each year to circle the earth four times. Why is this a problem? Plastic doesn’t go away. While it does eventually break down into microplastic, it takes 500 to 1,000 years for plastic to degrade.
While this plastic slowly degrades, about one million sea birds and 100,000 marine mammals are killed every year from the plastic in the ocean—whether from eating it, becoming tangled in it, etc. 4
If you think this still doesn’t affect you, consider your last trip to the beach. Was the landscape pristine and free from any litter? It's nearly impossible these days to visit a natural area without seeing some sort of plastic pollution. Since plastic never truly disappears, the problem will keep becoming larger and larger until it becomes impossible to ignore.
Additionally, one in every three fish caught for human consumption contains plastic. If you include fish in your diet, there is no longer any doubt about whether or not you’re eating plastic. Much of this plastic in the sea absorbs chemicals that have been linked to endocrine disruption and certain cancers.
Even if you don’t visit the beach or eat fish, you do breathe every day. 70 percent of the earth’s oxygen is produced by marine plants. If the plastic pollution in the ocean begins to kill off these plants, humans could be in for even larger problems. 5
How Can Humans Solve the Plastic Problem?
When you consider how much plastic is a part of everyday life, thinking of the immense pollution problem can be a bit overwhelming. Even so, there are small and easy steps you can take every day to reduce your plastic consumption. More and more companies are becoming aware of the issues surrounding plastic and alternatives for almost everything can be found these days.
Here are a few ways that you can reduce your plastic consumption:
- When you go grocery shopping, choose a reusable bag instead of a plastic one.
- Instead of buying bottled water, carry a reusable water bottle. If you’re in a country or area where you can’t drink the tap water, consider investing in a water purifier.
- Refuse plastic straws and utensils. Carry your own reusable utensils in your purse or backpack.
- Carry a thermos or reusable takeaway mug when going out for coffee or tea.
- Seek out alternatives to plastic items you use daily. Most toiletries can now be bought in glass containers, bamboo toothbrushes are widely available, and you can purchase many groceries in bulk with your own bag or jar.
Switching from single-use plastic to reusable alternatives is an easy way to do your part. To help with the effort to ensure that plastic is recycled properly or proper initiatives are taken to reuse plastic, MONQ runs a recycling program for reusable diffusers and also now offers MONQ R, a reusable, rechargeable personal diffuser. This means that you can now take your favorite Ocean blend on-the-go while having a positive effect on the environment.
Photo credits: WitthayalOvE/shutterstock.com, chaiyapruekyouprasert/shutterstock.com, SeanLockePhotography/shutterstock.com, RichCarey/shutterstock.com