Plastics. They’re everywhere. Plastics are so ubiquitous that we carry micro pieces of them in our very bloodstreams. A study published in 2019 concluded that an average person might ingest and inhale approximately 74,000 pieces of microplastic each year, just in the course of daily life – living, breathing, eating, and drinking. While more study is needed to better understand how these particles impact human health, preliminary research suggests that the nervous and reproductive systems are particularly susceptible to the negative effects of these chemicals.
Apart from the possible health implications of this plastic invasion, there are serious ecological and environmental concerns at hand. Plastic products, large, small, and micro, find their way into our natural environment at an alarming rate. These foreign objects have deleterious effects on terrestrial and marine wildlife and generally degrade the quality of our natural resources.
There are currently more than five trillion pieces of plastic in our oceans, and scientists have documented 700 marine species that have been affected by plastic in their environment. The magnitude of the problem is enormous, and it has both production and consumption elements. Apart from plastic products ending up in rivers, streams, lakes, and oceans, not to mention in forests, wetlands, fields, and parks, there are significant climate consequences tied to plastic production.
As of 2019, between four and eight percent of global oil consumption was tied to plastic production and distribution. Left unchecked, that figure is expected to grow to 20 percent by 2050. Plastics play a pivotal role in climate change, from production to transportation, to use, to disposal. Working to reduce our reliance on plastic products is a great way to restore our Earth, this Earth Month and every month thereafter.
The Most Common Culprits
It might seem obvious, but the most common and pernicious culprits in the world of plastic are the single use items we pick up and use so often without a second thought. Straws, plastic bags, and water bottles come to mind immediately. They serve our needs only briefly and then are tossed aside. Most plastic bags have a useful life of only 12 minutes, and they take more than 500 years to disintegrate in a landfill. In many cases, plastics never fully degrade, they simply break down into the microplastics we are so intimately familiar with.
Unfortunately, single use plastics don’t tell the full story. Look around your house and you will see dozens of items packaged in or made of plastic. Food, hygiene products, toys, and electronics, the list goes on and on. Even more concerning are the plastics we can’t see as readily. Soup and soda cans are often lined with plastic, for instance. It can seem impossible to avoid. How is the average consumer supposed to make a dent in this enormous, global problem?
The Most Impactful Solutions
Cutting down on plastics may seem like a major sacrifice, but it is possible. As with any habit change, focus is key. Pick one facet of your life and focus on reducing or eliminating plastics. If you regularly accept plastic bags at stores, set a goal to go an entire month without bringing a single plastic bag home. Turn to reusable bags or ask for paper if you forget your tote or backpack on occasion.
Once you’ve mastered the plastic bag scene, pick another area of consumption. Maybe you have a habit of picking up an energy drink or water after a workout; look for options that come in glass or aluminum or seek a new reward for your hard work.
By eliminating one major source of plastic from your life at a time, you can start to make a difference in the overall problem. There is no action too small in this realm – every choice you make counts. Build a support network of family and friends to hold each other accountable and to provide support and encouragement when the going gets tough. Take pride in knowing that your decisions make a difference.