Single-use products we bought at the store have one thing in common: they typically involve plastic use one way or another. Plastic is cheap and lightweight. No wonder in its creation, 60 years ago, plastic seemed like the perfect material for almost everything. It is no surprise that it keeps showing up in everything we consume - even in things you never guessed contain plastics like teabags. The world is running faster and faster, so we prefer something quick and easy to throw out - so we do not have to think much about it. Once these single-use products have fulfilled their purpose, we throw them in our trash bin. After the garbage officers come and pick up our trash, it is no longer our problem. But the thing is, it still does, and here is why.
The Problem with Single-Use Plastic Products
As the world rushes us to finish everything at lightning speed, our culture gradually resorts to throwable culture. Even before COVID-19, when we conveniently order take-aways and order stuff online. Without realizing it, this easy lifestyle generates a mountain of plastic waste, mostly from packaging. No doubt, this trend worsens in the pandemic season since our movements are restricted. Then there is also the spike of disposable protective gear usages like face shields and masks.
Plastics Do Not Stop in Landfills
We are wrong if we think the worse thing plastic could have done is sitting there in landfills. Plastic does not break easily. When it does break by the interference of winds and strong sea currents, it travels through various waterways to as far as the ocean. This microplastic debris often gets mistaken by fishes as food. Even planktivorous fishes mistook these harmful particles, mostly fishing nets fibers, as part of their diet since they rely on visual cues to eat.
Furthermore, the ingestion of microplastic negatively affects oceanic creatures' intestines, endocrine, and reproductive issues. When you hear a scientist say we may have more plastics than sea creatures in the ocean in the future, they are not exaggerating.
We would think that plastic ingestion by consumable marine creatures will not affect our health since we usually throw away their intestines before consumption. Unsurprisingly, research on direct implications for humans is limited. The first reason being indirect plastic consumption does not create a directly observable effect. Secondly, our diets vary – making it hard to conclude the cause of certain illnesses.
How do We Get Rid of Plastics?
We already have approximately 6.3 billion metric tons of plastic sitting in our landfills. I have to reiterate when durability is typically a quality we look for in items we purchase - for plastic, this also means they are hard to discard. If we burn them, we emit greenhouse gasses (GHG) that quickens the effect of global warming. Burying our plastic is not a solution either - exactly like hiding our bad grades from our parents. A useless act since the result would still show up on our report card, and in the case of plastic, they will still be there for years to come.
The Need for Self-Governance
I conclude that our conscious choice to reduce plastic is only one way to decrease plastic consumption. I come up with some ideas to cut down our plastic waste:
Replace plastic bags for grocery shopping with reusable bags.
When buying coffee, bring your tumbler - some companies even offer incentives if you take your container to purchase their beverages!
If you purchase take-out food, request the restaurant to place your food in your lunch box. Or choose a restaurant that offers bagasse or poly-coated packages. Additionally, we might want to tell the restaurants to omit plastic utensils and use our own.
Opt for a refillable beauty product such as body wash and shampoos that offers a recycling service. By purchasing a refillable product, we would not need to bring home more plastic bottles!
Stop buying your fruit and veggies with plastic baggies near the fruit and veggies section. Bring mesh bags instead, plus they look better than typical plastic bags!
Try to find a bulk store that allows customers to bring their jars to purchase their goods instead of buying products at a supermarket to reduce plastic waste. This way, we can reuse our existing containers for years.
You might be unaware that some cosmetics, soaps, shaving creams, and many other beauty products contain microplastics. Replace these with the ones without the non-biodegradable particles.
Use a reusable capsule instead of the regular coffee pods for your coffee machine. Aside from being reusable, they also help you save money! Pretty fantastic, right?
Many teabags use polypropylene to keep their form. Like all plastics, they are hardly biodegradable, so use infusers instead of teabags.
Replace plastic straws with reusable stainless steel ones.
Sponges are prone to break into microplastics. But luckily, it is replaceable with compostable, natural cellulose dishcloths. Some companies also provide eco-friendly cleaning products that omit single-use plastic.
Plastic Seems Bad, so Why Businesses Still Use Them?
Eliminating plastics is not as easy as it sounds. In some countries, particularly for small family-run restaurants and businesses, plastic packages are still more favorable. To operate, they need to maintain the hygiene of their goods. Frankly, plastic is still currently more affordable than its biodegradable alternative. In addition, not many policies give the incentive to plastic reduction efforts or provide a reward for the use of biodegradable material. Not even reducing tax levies, hence making more expensive options not even worth considering for small businesses. In addition, the lack of education on plastic reduction in society makes it seems as if the issue of plastic waste lacks urgency. Therefore, it is necessary to remember that we should not undermine the plastic waste issue solely because the impact is not visible.
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