Preserving Our Ecosystems: An Everyday Guide
One of the most important holidays this month can often be overlooked: Plastic Free July. Originating in Australia back in 2011, this month-long observation aims to shed some light on the current plastic crisis and challenge people around the world to make a change.
The amount of single-use plastics produced each year is nearly equivalent to the weight of the human race. These plastics end up in our landfills and oceans, releasing toxins into the earth and killing our marine ecosystems. For this Plastic Free July, it’s important to understand what can be done to reduce plastic consumption and make a positive environmental difference.
The first step in reevaluating consumption and making a change starts at home. The average person generates around 5 pounds of waste per day, doubling the averages from 1960. While waste seems to be on the rise, a lot of it can be avoided.
Food waste, for example, can be composted and turned into rich soil that improves the underground ecosystems. Instead of throwing scraps such as banana peels, coffee filters, apple cores, and egg shells into the garbage, use these items to fill a compost bin. Reducing the waste in landfills helps to lower greenhouse gas emissions such as methane from polluting our atmosphere. The Composting Council estimates that if every American composted their food scraps, the result would be similar to taking 7.8 million cars off the road. Not only that, but compost reduces the need for toxic chemical fertilizers and promotes better stormwater management, making it a responsible and economical choice for all.
Aside from food waste, everyday beauty and hygiene products also start to add up in landfills and our oceans over time. Single-use flossers, toothpaste tubes, daily contact lens packaging, and shampoo bottles are all part of the 27 million tons of plastic waste that end up in landfills each year. On top of that, another 8 million tons of plastic ends up in the oceans. Do we need more plastic flossers filling the stomachs of our marine life? It’s time to make a change.
The first step is to look at the eco-friendly alternatives on the market. Instead of single-use plastic, switch to refillable floss packs for a compact, functional, and sustainable alternative. Each flosser can save the user from disposing of up to 720 single-use flossers, preventing tens of millions in total from entering landfills.
Another small but mighty plastic contributor is contact lenses. According to an Arizona State University research study, between 15-20% of contact wearers are disposing of their contact lenses in the toilet or sink. While this may seem harmless, these lenses break down into small microplastics that eventually end up in our oceans. This not only impacts the quality of life in the marine ecosystems, but it’s also a major concern that these microplastics end up in our food. Luckily, there are a few opportunities to cut down on contact waste and reduce these microplastics in our oceans. For one, opt for monthly contact lenses or bi-weekly options to reduce the number of individual packs thrown away. This will alleviate some of the packaging waste heading to the landfills, as well as extend the lifespan of the individual lenses.
For those who rely on daily contacts due to convenience or health concerns, opt for a more economical and package-friendly alternative. Instead of bulky plastic cases, look into the minimal flat packs that use 80% less packaging than other traditional lenses on the market. Daily, biweekly, and monthly contacts alike, make sure to dispose of lenses the correct way and keep plastics out of our waterways.
Single-use plastic water bottles are one of the most important habits to break this month and beyond. In just one year, over 500 billion plastic water bottles are used, and 91% of them are not recycled. These bottles are flooding landfills and oceans, and the solution is quite simple: use reusable water bottles over plastic. This is both economic and eco-friendly, as refilling a water bottle can take the place of 156 plastic water bottles.
Living plastic-free isn’t realistic for most people, and that’s ok. This month reminds us of why it’s important to be mindful of our single-use plastic usage and make conscious substitutions. Reevaluate what can be thrown away, recycled, and composted. Take a look at everyday products and see where you can cut down on waste. It is up to us to reverse this plastic pandemic and preserve our ecosystems.