We should all be concerned about the environment, our impact on it, and climate change. We must act now by making adjustments in our everyday lives and work urgently to get community, corporate and political leaders to take action, on our behalf, to protect the planet.
The truth is: the natural world is changing. And we are totally dependent on that world. It provides our food, water and air. It is the most precious thing we have and we need to defend it. | Sir David Attenborough
From the oil and natural gas extraction of its beginnings to its carbon-intensive transportation, refinement, manufacturing and slow degradation after it’s been discarded (some products taking hundreds of years to decompose), plastic is one of the most prevalent pollutants that are driving climate change and the warming of our planet. At every stage of its lifecycle, plastic is emitting unacceptable amounts of greenhouse gases.
While greenhouse gases are a natural part of the greenhouse effect that traps heat and keeps the Earth warm and at an average global temperature that sustains life in a balanced way, human activity is producing an ever-increasing amount of greenhouse emissions that are disrupting the planet’s ability to remain in a life-supporting equilibrium. Simply put, as the amount of greenhouse gases increase in the atmosphere more heat gets trapped and the globe warms. A seemingly imperceptible rise of just 1.5℃ to 2℃ will have a catastrophic impact on our biodiversity and sustainability — and some of those impacts are being felt today.
At current levels, greenhouse gas emissions from the plastic lifecycle threaten the ability of the global community to keep global temperature rise below 1.5°C. With the petrochemical and plastic industries planning a massive expansion in production, the problem is on track to get much worse. | Plastic & Climate: The Hidden Costs of a Plastic Planet by the Center for International Environmental Law
So what can we do to help reduce our plastic consumption (in particular single-use) and make a difference in the fight against global warming? Here are 4 things you can do right now …
Re-use Your Shopping Bags
The best bags to have are durable, reusable, have a minimal environmental impact during their manufacturing, etc and are either recyclable or compostable. 100% hemp bags are as close to this ideal as possible, but these are often inaccessible to many people due to their high cost. Their environmental credentials may also be rendered useless if designs on them are created with non-biodegradable ink or if they are coated in plastic or created with a blend of other materials. Finding a reusable bag that is environmentally friendly is not as simple as you may think. Crops that can be used to make material for bags (like cotton, bamboo, jute, hemp, wood/paper, palm leaves, straws and grasses, etc) may require intensive farming techniques and/or use large amounts of land, water or chemicals in their manufacturing which, sadly, may end up making their impact as bad as plastic bags.
So what’s the answer?
Ultimately, if you’re using a couple of durable, reusable bags for a number of years you’re helping to reduce the need to harvest new raw materials (which saves energy and cuts greenhouse gases), you’re cutting down on waste and helping to end plastic pollution that threatens marine life, wild animals, and the natural habitats they live in. Pick what works for you as a replacement to single-use plastic bags and stick with your commitment to making this change (you can find a great guide to what the best reusable and sustainable bags are at the end of this article). The average American family, for example, uses 1,500 plastic bags a year so switching to 4 or 5 reusable, recyclable or compostable bags for a number of years is a good thing to do.
Recycle Plastic Bottles
One essential step in the fight against climate change is becoming committed to recycling all the plastic bottles you use. It’s easy to become disengaged from doing so if you live in an area that does not have a curbside recycling program or you have to make a special trip out to somewhere that does plastic (and glass) bottle recycling — if you can, make it a part of your routine as much as possible. The vast majority of plastic (including bottles and bags) is not being recycled. There is so much of it that becomes litter and refuse that we’re on a path to having more plastic waste, ton for ton, in the ocean than fish by 2050. It shouldn’t stop at plastic items either, anything that can be recycled should be. Be dedicated about it and you will make a difference — this includes making sure that where you live has the capability to deal with the amount of recycling it needs to do. It isn’t just people being careless about where they throw their plastic waste, it’s local and national governments not having the infrastructure in place to actually do it. Vote people in who will work on this and demand those in power create policies that fund recycling initiatives. Now is the time to be motivated to get things done before it’s too late.
Ditch Plastic Cutlery
While we all have a tendency to look for things that make life easier — basically less effort on our part — this has enabled us to shift our mindset away from understanding our impact. There is no way that the amount of energy it takes to extract, transport and manufacture fossil fuels to make plastic cutlery takes less energy than simply washing-up something we can reuse. If you really need single-use or throwaway cutlery, find compostable alternatives instead.
Say No To Chewing Gum
This might be news to you (it was me), but chewing gum contributes about 100,000 tonnes a year to worldwide plastic pollution. Yes, chewing gum is made of plastic. It cannot be composted, takes about 500 years to degrade and invariably ends up stuck somewhere it shouldn’t be. If you need to have some chewing gum for a dry mouth or dental hygiene, there are plastic-free, natural brands available.
As individuals, we really can make a difference but if we don’t get our world leaders and the big, powerful corporations and businesses that fuel climate change to listen to the science then it will be futile. We have the technological intelligence, we have the ideas, the means and the wisdom to change entire systems and infrastructures environmentally sustainable. We have the know-how. We have the power. If we turn away from single-use plastics and other climate-damaging practices in numbers that cannot be ignored, those who can enact the most change may yet join us in doing what needs to be done.
What Are The Best Re-usable Bags? – Small Footprints, Big Adventures
24 Cheap & Easy Replacements for Plastic in Your Home & Kitchen – Business Insider