The benefits of plastic are irrefutable, they are cheap, easy to manufacture and convenient. Since the 1950s, the production of plastic has outpaced almost every other material on the planet.
However, it is undeniable that plastic pollution negatively impacts the ocean and the marine animals that live there.
Unless you live under a rock, I’m sure you’ve seen some recent videos of plastic pollution. There has been the disturbing turtle video with the straw being extracted from his nose, the diver swimming through a sea of plastic in Indonesia or the autopsy of sea birds and whales with plastic spilling from their stomachs.
32% of the 78 million tons of plastic packaging produced makes its way into the ocean every year, the equivalent of pouring one garbage truck of plastic into the ocean every minute.
According to the World Economic Forum, “This is expected to increase to two per minute by 2030 and four per minute by 2045. By 2050, this could mean that there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans”.
So what are single-use plastics?
Single-use plastics are disposable plastics that are used once before being thrown away. These are things like plastic bags, coffee cups, plastic bottles and straws. We produce roughly 300 million tons of plastic each year and over half of it is only used once.
Fact: Every piece of plastic ever made still exists somewhere.
Plastics are petroleum based and do not biodegrade. This means that it will not breakdown over time. Instead it will sit in a landfill where it will either be buried or it will find a way into our oceans.
What are the top 10 plastics that we pull from the ocean?
“The most common single-use plastics found in the environment are, in order of magnitude, cigarette butts, plastic drinking bottles, plastic bottle caps, food wrappers, plastic grocery bags, plastic lids, straws and stirrers, other types of plastic bags and foam take-away containers
(UNEP (2018). Single-use plastics: A Roadmap for Sustainability)
The Good News: You CAN make a BIG difference with the choices you make every day
Here are my top 10 things you can do to reduce your plastic footprint in the world.
1. Butt out Cigarette Litter
Cigarette butts are the number one most littered item on earth, with about 4.5 trillion cigarettes discarded each year. 98% of cigarette filters are made of plastic fibers.
Cigarette butts stick around for a long time and leach toxic chemicals; like arsenic and lead into the environment. Studies estimate that smokers litter as many of 65% of their cigarette butts.
So if you must smoke, dispose of your cigarette butts properly. Don’t throw them out your car window or stamp them out on the street and leave them there.
Put them in a rubbish bin. Participate in beach clean ups and cigarette butt challenges.
2. Green your fire
According to the Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup 2017 Report, all the cigarette lighters collected would have stood 10 times higher than the Eiffel Tower in Paris (324 meters).
On a tiny atoll, called Midway atoll, there is an ongoing lighter crisis within their albatross population. If you smoke, make sure to bin your lighter or better yet, invest in a zippo, which is a re-fillable butane lighter.
3. Invest in a reusable water bottle
Reusable water bottles have come a long way in recent years. They literally come in every shape, size and style. Worldwide, we buy 1 million plastic bottles every minute. One plastic bottle and lid can take thousands of years to decompose.
Simply switching to a reusable water bottle saves on average 167 plastic bottles in one year. Think about how many we could save over our lifetime.
Crystal Dive has a water refill station in the front office, cheaper than 7-11 and less wasteful. You can find water refill stations all over South East Asia.
4. Use a reusable coffee mug
1 million disposable cups end up in landfills EVERY MINUTE. Ditch your single use cups or at the very least ditch the lid, sleeve and stir stick. On average bringing your own coffee mug saves 500 cups and lids from landfills every year!
Paper cups are often not recyclable because they are coated with plastic to prevent the cups from leaking. Invest in a stylish mug that you want to drink out of every day.
5. Bring your own reusable bag
Stores around the world and even here in Koh Tao, have awoken to the plastic bag problem plaguing our planet. Don’t be left behind. Bags are easy to make out of recycled t –shirts, cheap to buy and last for years.
Switching to a reusable bag will keep on average 170 plastic bags out of landfills. Don’t just use them for groceries; carry your take away in them, your new clothes and toiletries. I keep a couple in my backpack, some in my bike and always one hanging off my doorknob at home, so I can’t leave home without it!
6. Bring your own takeaway container
In an ideal world, you have a takeaway container with you at all times. Here on the island some businesses ask that you buy a cheap container and if you bring it back, you get discounts on your food.
Or you can keep it and re-use it for take-away food. In this same vein, I keep a fork with me at all times, so I don’t need plastic utensils. I also keep one in my desk at work. So I can always say no to plastic utensils and chopsticks wrapped in plastic.
7. Ditch the plastic straw
Get in the habit of saying “no straw” when ordering drinks. If you are a habitual smoothie drinker you may also want to invest in a bamboo or metal straw. Cheap to purchase, easy to carry and some come in rainbow colours and with fun carrying cases.
Use a reusable straw and save 540 plastic straws from entering the ocean this year. Think of all the turtles you’ll save saying no to a bucket with 10 straws.
8. Celebrate without balloons
Balloons are a birthday staple, but it’s not worth the thousands of animals that die from ingesting balloons. A colourful balloon floating in the ocean looks remarkably similar to a jellyfish or a sponge, a turtle’s favourite snack.
In 2016, there was a story in Sydney, Australia about a sea turtle that was found with 4 different coloured balloons in its stomach. Start a new birthday tradition using recyclable ribbons, flying kites, pinwheels, tissue paper, bubble blowing or seed throwing.
Celebrate milestones and birthdays by preserving life, not killing lives.
9. Update your oral habits
Do you chew gum to freshen your breath? According to the website JustOneOcean , most chewing gum on sale is “made from butadiene-based synthetic rubber, a polymer, a plastic product made from oil, a bit like the stuff we use to make car tires.”
If that doesn’t cause you to want to revamp your oral hygiene, I’m not sure what will. I’m also not a huge fan of those little punch out plastic wrappers that gum is sold in, I pick up at least a few of those plastic wrappers on every beach clean.
Not to mention that plastic doesn’t biodegrade, so where does it all go? Think about all the pieces of gum you have ever eaten that is still out in the environment not decomposing somewhere.
Pop into the Crystal Retail shop and buy a locally made bamboo toothbrush and keep 5 plastic toothbrushes a year out of the ocean.
10. Green your grooming routine
I’m sure you have noticed that there is a lot of plastic involved with grooming; shampoo bottles, sunscreen bottles, shower gel, menstrual products, makeup remover wipes, disposable razors…the list goes on and on.
There are some great alternatives, even living on this little island of ours. Switch out shampoo, body wash and liquid soap for shampoo bars and bar soaps.
Switch out tampons and pads for silicone menstrual cups. Invest in electric razors or metal razors with replaceable blades. Cut up an old shirt and use that for makeup remover pads with coconut oil. When you have a bunch that are dirty, just throw them in the wash and start again.
Start by changing one thing at a time. It’s a lot less overwhelming making small changes. Talk to people about why you have a reusable mug, bag or takeaway container.
These small steps among a lot of people, like backpackers can make a HUGE impact to places you are visiting. Volunteer your time to do beach clean ups, or pick up 3 pieces of garbage every time you are at the beach.
Challenge other people to do the same. You can make a difference in the life of a turtle, whale, dolphin or shark. Be a part of the solution, not a part of the problem.
Kate Bradford PADI MSDT 365653