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Why you should ditch single-use plastics!



Plastic ocean pollution in Roatan (https://www.forbes.com/sites/trevornace/2017/10/27/idyllic-caribbean-island-covered-in-a-tide-of-plastic-trash-along-coastline/?sh=313deea02524)


Single-use plastics have detrimental environmental and health impacts, yet they are still extremely common. Roughly half of the global plastic production is designed for single-use plastic products [1]. Such items are designed to be used once and almost immediately be thrown away after use. Common examples of single-use products include Styrofoam takeaway containers, straws, and plastic cutlery among various other items [2]. Most businesses, especially in the restaurant industry, use an extraneous amount of these disposable plastics. The overconsumption of single-use plastics is dangerous to our bodies, communities, and the environment, all reasons to ditch disposable plastics!


What are common Disposable Plastics?

The top five sources of single-use plastic are reported to be plastic bags, water bottles, to-go containers, and takeaway cups and straws [3]. The restaurant industry uses two out of the five top sources, to-go containers, and plastic straws, and it needs to end.


In the United States alone…


● Over 500 million straws are used daily in the United States [4].

● More than 100 million plastic utensils are used and disposed of daily [5].


Why Avoid Disposable Plastics?

Plastic threatens human health as chemicals used in production are toxic to humans from the beginning of its life cycle to the end. Bisphenol A (BPA) is used in plastic production and has been linked as an endocrine disruptor as it increases and decreases endocrine activity and causes adverse health effects[6]. A US Center for Disease Control and Prevention Survey discovered BPA in 93% of urine samples taken from humans over the age of six [6].


Phthalates, a group of chemicals that makes the plastic more flexible and harder to break, have been linked to insulin resistance, weight gain, decreased levels of sex hormones, and adverse effects on the male and female reproductive system [6].


When hot liquids or food contents are exposed to plastic, the interaction between heat and the plastic causes BPA and phthalates to leach into the food or liquid it is touching, ultimately contaminating your body.


Pollution

There is no point in time where single-use plastics do not pollute our air, land, and waterways.


A staggering 91% of United States plastic is not recycled and instead, ends up in our landfills or water [7]. Plastics never go away and when exposed to solar radiation and/or water, it just breaks into smaller pieces – microplastics. In landfills, it sits and takes up space until eventually, solar radiation from the sunlight causes the plastic to break into microplastics and releases methane and ethylene, two greenhouse gases, into the atmosphere [8].

Image: Olive Ridley Project (https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2021/10/how-france-plans-to-significantly-reduce-its-plastic-waste-from-2022)


To combat crowding in landfills, plastic is often burned, which has generated an estimated 15 tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere so far [9]. The US plastics industry is responsible for at least 232 million tons of carbon dioxide gas emissions per year; equivalent to the average emissions from 116 (500-megawatt) coal-fired power plants in 2020 [9].


Single-use plastic is also crowding out our waters and is estimated to make up 80% of all marine debris [10]. This not only clogs waterways but causes death to marine life. They, unfortunately, get entangled in plastic debris, causing them to suffocate and drown [7]. As plastic breaks up into microplastics, marine animals often mistake plastic debris for food which only blocks their digestive tract and leads to starvation [10].


Environmental Impacts

Microplastics resulting from single-use plastics are essentially everywhere. Contributing to its spread? A process, known as bioaccumulation– the transfer of chemicals that enters the body of an animal feeding on plastic that makes its way to humans [11]. Essentially, every aspect of the food web is contaminated with plastic. Marine life eats the plastics, wildlife eats the marine life and humans eat both wild and marine life so we are full of plastics.


The production and disposal of single-use plastics is not only an environmental concern but an environmental injustice concern. Most plastic production facilities are located in low-income communities, which are often communities of color (Beyond Plastics, 2021). In 2020 alone, the US shipped nearly 1.4 billion pounds of plastic trash overseas, the majority went to developing countries that lack the infrastructure and markets to deal with such a large influx of plastic (Beyond Plastics, 2021).


A volunteer cleaning a riverbank surrounding a canal in Dhakha, Bangladesh. Zabed Hasnain Chowdhury |SOPA Images | LightRocket via Getty Images.


Are there alternatives?

Luckily, there are other options to choose from! Whether compostable, reusable, or biodegradable, anything that is not plastic is a better, eco-friendlier alternative. By choosing to not use single-use plastics you are not only saving the planet but saving yourself.


What can you do?

● Buy reusable straws and cutlery! Whether its metal, bamboo, wood, etc. ensure you are sustainable when eating on the go.

● Talk to your favorite restaurants and ask if they have non-plastic alternatives for cutlery and straws.

● Keep the conversation going! Whether it is a simple conversation with a friend or supporting local initiatives, the more effort the better.






References

[1] Fact Sheet: Single-Use Plastics. Earth Day (2022, April 6) Retrieved from, https://www.earthday.org/fact-sheet-single-use-plastics/


[2] McClure, M. (2021, November 22). Everything you should know about single-use plastic. Greenpeace Africa. Retrieved June 10, 2022, from https://www.greenpeace.org/africa/en/blogs/14052/everything-you-should-know-about-single-use-plastic/#:~:text=Single%2Duse%20plastic%2C%20or%20disposable,Plastic%20bottles


[3] 5 Gyres Institute. (2021). Plastic pollution & animals. 5Gyres.org.


[4] How do straws hurt the environment? Association of Zoos & Aquariums. (2019, November 15). Retrieved June 10, 2022, from https://www.aza.org/connect-stories/stories/how-do-straws-hurt-the-environment?locale=en


[5] Root, T. (2021, May 3). How bringing your own cutlery helps solve the plastic crisis. Environment. Retrieved June 6, 2022, from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/article/carrying-your-own-fork-spoon-help-plastic-crisis#:~:text=In%20the%20United%20States%2C%20more,utensils%20are%20used%20every%20day.&text=Their%20size%2C%20inconsistent%20materials%2C%20and,them%20more%20difficult%20to%20recycle


[6] Fact sheet: The plastic threat to human health. Earth Day. (2022, April 6). Retrieved June 6, 2022, from https://www.earthday.org/fact-sheet-the-plastic-threat-to-human-health/


[7] The facts. Plastic Oceans International. (2021, July 21). Retrieved June 6, 2022, from https://plasticoceans.org/the-facts/


[8] The Great Pacific Garbage Patch • The Ocean Cleanup. The Ocean Cleanup. (2022, May 12). Retrieved June 6, 2022, from https://theoceancleanup.com/great-pacific-garbage-patch/


[9] The New Coal. Plastics & Climate Change. Beyond Plastics (2021, October). Retrieved June 6, 2022, from https://www.beyondplastics.org/plastics-and-climate


[10] Ranniger, G. (2022, March 23). Ocean plastic pollution. Environmental Health News. Retrieved June 6, 2022, from https://www.ehn.org/ocean-plastic-pollution-2654378379/particle-6


[11] Collier County, FL. The Facts On Styrofoam: Reduce and Reuse. (n.d.). Retrieved June 6, 2022, from https://www.colliercountyfl.gov/government/public-utilities/solid-hazardous-waste/keeping-green-helpful-information-page/the-facts-on-styrofoam-reduce-and-reuse#:~:text=Non%2DBiodegradable%20Pollutant&text=Some%20experts%20estimate%20the%20decomposition,years%2C%20with%20limited%20recycling%20options.


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