Our world's plastic problem: How you can help
ARE you worried about how much plastic waste is being generated every day in our society?
Plastic is central to the way we live our lives - from food packaging, to water bottles, packaging of toiletries and cosmetics, to products that are made entirely out of plastics.
But have you pondered what happens to that plastic after you throw it "away"?
Where is "away" exactly?
Well, if you watched the ABC Four Corners report last night, Oceans of Plastic, by French filmmaker Vincent Perazio, you might know the answer, and you might be feeling quite unsettled right now.
During the program, a number of alarming facts came to light.
Environmental Engineer, Jenna Jambeck, spent years researching the problem, and quantified and estimated that 8 million metric tons of plastic entered the ocean in 2010.
To get to that figure, she found that in 2010, 275 million tons of plastic waste was generated.
Out of that figure, 32 million tons were not properly managed - that is, they were neither burned, buried, nor recycled, and out of that 32 million tons, eight million tons ended up in the water, mostly as microplastics, which are pieces of plastic less than 5mm in size, which damage the ocean environment and end up in the stomachs of marine life.
With the scale of the problem so big, it was clear better management was needed, she said - if we do nothing, 10 times more plastic will enter our oceans in 2020, she said.
SO WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
It's clear that we all need to be smarter in our use of plastics and the way we dispose of them.
I have personally been looking into the Zero Waste movement a lot over the last couple of months, and have been implementing some changes into my life to decrease my plastic use and minimise my footprint on the earth.
Here are some ways you can do the same:
Ditch the plastic bags
This is one of the most simple actions you can take to cut down on plastic waste.
Invest in some cloth shopping bags and make sure you take them with you to the shops - write a note, keep them in your car, or keep a foldaway bag in your handbag so you'll never be caught out.
In addition, don't just use reusable bags for carrying your shopping load - skip on those plastic bags from the produce section too by making the switch to reusable cloth produce bags too.
Say no to plastic straws
You may have seen the horrific footage circulating the internet of a sea turtle having a plastic straw removed from its nostril.
If you don't want to contribute to more footage like that, let your waiter known when eating out or having a few drinks out that you don't need a straw.
If you really like drinking through a straw, you can purchase stainless steel or glass ones online or at many health food stores. Keep one in your bag in case you get thirsty.
Carry a glass or stainless steel water bottle with you
Plastic single use water bottles are, put simply, a waste - a waste of resources and a waste of money, when you could be filling up your trusty reusable water at a tap every day for no extra cost.
And if you argue that you reuse that disposable water bottle over and over again, just remember that the type of plastic disposable bottles are made from are not meant for that purpose as, it has been found, chemicals in the plastic can leach over time.
Find some cool water bottles at http://www.lifewithoutplastic.com/store
Don't forget your reusable coffee mug
Did you know that most disposable coffee cups can't actually be recycled? That's because they usually contain a layer of plastic inside the paper design.
Many people already own one of these, whether a Keep Cup or other type of reusable travel mug, but a great number of people simply forget to take them with them when out and about.
Make a note to take yours with you and help save the world, one cup of Joe at a time.
Check out some of the reusable coffee mugs at http://www.biome.com.au
Check your council's recycling guidelines
Make sure you're recycling everything properly - don't just chuck everything you think could be recycled into your recycling bin, as if you're not doing it correctly, you could contaminate items that could have been recycled, but now can't.
For example, always remember to bundle up soft plastics or plastic bags into the one tied up bag - you don't want to be responsible for a loose plastic bag clogging up a machine in our local recycling centre, I'm sure.
Find out if you're recycling correctly at http://www.northernriverswaste.com.au
Carry around a 'takeaway kit'
Having a spare container, a cloth napkin, and reusable cutlery in your bag is a small, but helpful step to save on plastic packaging if you happen to get hungry.
Simply ask the food outlet you're grabbing takeaway from to pop your food into the container instead of a plastic container. Easy.
Avoid products containing microbeads
If you haven't heard about the dangers of microbeads, which are commonly found in toiletry and cosmetic items, here is a quick run down.
Microbeads are small pieces of plastic - as as 0.355 millimeters across in some cases.
These plastic beads are just the right size for marine life to mistake them for food, and then the beads physically clog up their stomachs.
Another worry is that plastic is very good at absorbing other toxic pollutants in the water, like PCBs, pesticides, and oil.
As smaller fish eat them, and then those fish are consumed by larger creatures, these toxins are transported up into the food chain.
Start bulk shopping
By purchasing your food items directly into reusable mesh produce, canvas bulk bags, or glass jars and containers, from willing stores, you can avoid so much unnecessary plastic packaging - and probably benefit your health while you're at it, as you'll most likely be purchasing less processed foods.
Then, once you get home, you can transfer your groceries into glass jars and containers that you have collected from other uses - double the green points!