Why We’re Against Single-Use Plastic
In 1314, King Edward II of England banned soccer. In 1439, King Henry VI banned kissing. In 1675, King Charles II tried to ban coffeehouses. Earlier this year, Queen Elizabeth II banned plastics at the royal palaces.
Thank goodness those three earlier bans didn’t stick—and thank goodness the last one has! The Queen’s banning of plastic at Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, and the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Scotland attests to a commitment to conservation that we can all admire, and emulate. The reasons why it’s undeniably important to reduce our plastic use can be gleaned from the statistics:
- An unfathomable 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic is on this planet.
- Of that 8.3 billion, 6.3 billion metric tons have become plastic waste.
- A horrifying 91% of plastic isn’t recycled.
- 18 billion pounds of plastic waste flows into oceans every year.
- According to National Geographic, citing a 2017 study, “If present trends continue, by 2050, there will be 12 billion metric tons of plastic in landfills. That amount is 35,000 times as heavy as the Empire State Building.”
- Nearly half of all plastic ever manufactured was made from 2000 on.
- Plastic takes over 400 years to degrade.
Numbers like that can be overwhelming and hard to digest on a day-to-day level. Thinking on such a big picture can make the small picture seem less consequential. But the truth of the matter is that even the smallest element of that big picture counts in major ways. We’re talking about the single plastic bag from the grocery store, or the plastic straw you use once and then throw out. Single-use plastic is a huge part of the plastic epidemic.
Single-Use Plastic Is a Heavy Contributor to Ocean Pollution
A surprisingly substantial component of the stats above comes from single-use plastic. About half of all yearly plastic production is for single-use products, according to PlasticOceans.org. EarthDay.org notes that Americans throw away 100 billion plastic bags every year—which comes out to 307 bags per person. An estimate from Technomic indicated that Americans used 170–175 million plastic straws each day in 2017. In an article on Forbes.com, Trevor Nace notes that humans around the globe buy a million plastic bottles a minute.
According to environmental engineer Jenna Jambeck, as told to NPR, most of the trash on beaches and in the ocean is single-use: “cigarette butts, grocery bags, bottles and caps, straws, utensils and packaging.” The United Nations Environment Programme reported a study using data from more than 5,000 deep-sea dives. The data revealed that over a third of debris found from the dives was macro-plastic, of which 89% was single-use; almost all plastic below 6,000 meters (3.7 miles) was single use.
The combined effects of all the plastic in the oceans—single use and not—is dire. For Forbes.com, Nace writes, “It is estimated that by 2050 the ocean will contain more plastic by weight than fish. The plastic that finds its way into the oceans inevitably will pose a risk of ingestion by sea birds, fish, marine mammals, etc. It’s not uncommon to see articles of sea life found dead with significant amounts of plastic in their stomach.” BiologicalDiversity.org reports that among the many instances of marine life being harmed by plastic, fish in the North Pacific ingest between 12,000 and 24,000 tons of plastic annually. Sea turtles mistake floating plastic for food, resulting in internal injury or death. When seabirds ingest plastic, the amount of food that their stomachs can store decreases, causing starvation. “It’s estimated that 60 percent of all seabird species have eaten pieces of plastic, with that number predicted to increase to 99 percent by 2050,” according to BiologicalDiversity.org. And among the marine mammals who suffer from the presence of plastic in their habitats are Hawaiian monk seals and the endangered Steller sea lion.
Plastic affects marine life from the large to the tiny: According to GrrlScientist on Forbes.com, “Microplastics can result in reduced feeding, energetic deficiencies, injury, or death of zooplankton (ref)—A Very Bad Thing since zooplankton are part of the essential foundation upon which the entire marine food web rests.”
Making matters even more disturbing, according to a fascinating short film by Andreas Tanner, plastic breaks down into particles that “can absorb high concentrations of agricultural and industrial toxins.” Beyond what that means for the marine life that consume those—“they die a slow and painful death, because they starve with a full stomach, or because their intestines rupture”—humans are also at risk: “In the making of plastic, hazardous chemicals are used in order to enhance elasticity of fire resistance. … Through exposure to heat, the wrong detergents, or simply over time, plastic will go brittle, thus releasing these chemicals, which in turn, through the airways, ingestion, or through mere touch, fight their way into the human body. The consequences are severe. They include increased risk of cancer, asthma, infertility, and developmental disorders.”
The Plastic-Free Movement Gains Steam
Many people and organizations around the globe have taken the regal route and stopped one-time use of plastic. The #stopsucking hashtag has been used on Instagram 50,000 times, and companies such as Starbucks, American Airlines, Disney, Hyatt, and Royal Caribbean have announced plans to stop using plastic straws. Cities that have banned plastic straws include Seattle; Malibu; Monmouth Beach, New Jersey; and Fort Myers Beach, Florida.
Here at Healthy Human, we have been a proud partner of the Strawless Summer campaign in Charleston, South Carolina, in which more than 100 awesome restaurants are also participating. All summer, we have been donating 50% of sales of our Stainless Steel Straw kit to the Charleston Chapter of the SurfRider Foundation. Just enter the code SURFRIDER when you buy a Stainless Steel Straw kit. If you buy any additional products, Healthy Human will also donate 15% of proceeds from those products to the same great organization. (Please make sure to use the code SURFRIDER.)
To everyone involved in the Strawless Summer and other no-plastic movements, or to anyone who has made a personal commitment to reducing their plastic use, a HUGE thank you for doing your part. Every straw that doesn’t end up in the ocean counts.
Check back soon for our next blog article, on plastic-free alternatives!