Have you ever ordered fries at a sit down restaurant and with them came a plastic cup or plastic package with only a tear drop of ketchup? Have you ever noticed that most drinks you order these days, except for our old friends beer and wine, come with a plastic straw? That wrapper, that container, that shampoo bottle, toothbrush, bike grips, bag of chips, diapers, stuffed animals and even maybe your sweater contain plastic. Plastic is everywhere. For all of its conveniences, it comes with many costs to human health, terrestrial and aquatic environments and to wildlife. Plastic is wreaking havoc; particularly on ocean life, from jellyfish to albatrosses to whales. That’s why this World Oceans Day we’re calling on ocean lovers, like you, to take a little pressure off for 7 days and join Zero Plastic Week.
Zero Plastic Week is an initiative that began in Europe to bring attention to not only our often unnecessary reliance on plastic but also its detrimental environmental impact. People all over the world will be pledging to not buy any new plastic for 1 week, providing an opportunity to really reflect on how much of the stuff we use in our day to day and how we can all start rejecting the plastic overload.
Intrigued but not convinced? Here are some plastic mind bombs for you. You may have heard about the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” or “Plastic Vortex” found north of the Hawaiian islands. Well it turns out there are five of them. The ocean contains gyres that are strong currents that swirl and whirl and swallow up garbage. Though people have called it a trash island, it is more like a trash smoothie where some of the contents are still identifiable and the rest have been grinded so small they are part of the liquid. A lot of the plastic is found near the ocean’s surface, but some types of plastic sink, partially or fully, contaminating seafloor habitats. Much of it makes its way back to land, littering beaches and coastal habitats.
Plastic does not biodegrade. It does, however, get broken down slowly into smaller and smaller pieces until it is so small that it is mistaken by marine life for plankton, the base of marine food chains. This manmade substance is now actually part of marine food chains. It is ingested by one species and that is then ingested by another species and up the chain it goes, often accompanied by a magnifying toxic load from the chemicals absorbed by the plastic. Occupying space in a species’ stomach, because plastic is void of nutrients, it doesn’t take that much for the animal in question to starve to death or in the very least get sick or weak. Plastic has been found in the stomachs of fish, whales, seabirds, turtles and likely numerous other creatures. Almost half of all seabirds and marine mammals, and about 80 per cent of sea turtles have been impacted by marine debris; most of which is plastic.
Our oceans are resilient but they need our help. Here are some tips that I’ve found have helped me reduce my plastic consumption over the last few of years.
- Buy in bulk and refill, refill, refill. Buying food in bulk allows you to reuse containers you already own. Just ask them to weigh your container before you fill them to save annoyance at the counter. There are now household product refill stores popping up as well. Some spots like The Soap Dispensary in Vancouver have everything from lotion to toothpaste to baking soda, and many other products to help avoid acquiring new plastic containers. The East End Food Coop in Vancouver and Grassroots in Toronto are also good spots to refill your detergents.
- Keep a small reusable bag in your backpack, purse or vehicle for impromptu grocery stops. And fruit and veg don’t need separate small bags, you wash them anyway.
- If possible buy from produce delivery companies or farmers’ markets. In your food box you can often specify that you don’t want any of it to come in plastic, though most use biobags, and it saves you getting those tomatoes wrapped in plastic at the store. Many major cities in Canada have these now, and all have farmers’ markets.
- Always ask for no straw with your beverage and bring your own take-out containers. The person serving you may look at you funny when you hand them your own doggy bag, but stay strong.
- Invest in a good quality water bottle, travel mug and travel utensils.
- Plastic/cling wrap is easily replaced. Unfinished meals, cut fruit etc can go in glass bottles and will stay even more fresh.
- Reuse containers you get for free. Don’t throw away those glass jars of jam, pickles, sauces, they make great tupperwear, as long as a safe substance was found in it to begin with of course.
- For those plastic items you just can’t avoid, if you can’t reuse them, make sure to recycle them. Many cities have “beyond the bluebox” programs that allow you to drop off plastics for recycling that the city can’t accommodate. But recycling should really be the last option.
- Lastly, if you’re feeling frustrated and want to give up, remember that there are other people out there trying to do the same. If you’re feeling desperate, Google “plastic pollution” to keep inspired. Warning: the images you will find are shocking.
There are lots of amazing people and organizations working to study and raise awareness about the impact of plastic in our oceans. Below are a few sites worth checking out for more information and tips.
Algalita, Marine Research Institute http://www.algalita.org/index.php
Clean Seas Coalition http://cleanseascoalition.org
Plastic Manners http://plasticmanners.wordpress.com/
Plastic Pollution Coalition plasticpollutioncoalition.org
5 Gyres http://5gyres.org/whats_happening_now/
Zero Plastic Week zeroplasticweek.org
I’m not sure if Snoop Dogg, now affectionately known as Snoop Lion, was feeling overwhelmingly passionate about the state of plastic pollution in our oceans when he wrote his song entitled “Welcome to the world of the plastic beach”, but I can’t help but wonder if this could be our blue planet’s fate if we don’t start demanding a societal shift away from our throw-away culture. We can start by making changes in our own life and use our buying power and voices to say no to plastic addicts. Start by joining Zero Plastic Week and encourage your friends to do the same.