Plastic Pollution 101

by | Jul 1, 2019 | Environment, Lifestyle

Quit the plastic straws, bring your reusable shopping bags, and don’t use single use plastic water bottles. We’ve all heard these phrases but, have you ever wondered why it’s so bad to use plastic anyways? Today, July 1, starts Plastic Free July, which is a global movement that helps millions of people be part of the solution to plastic pollution – so we can have cleaner streets, oceans, and communities. In this blog, we will walk you through Plastic Pollution 101 – how it started, how it affects the environment, and how we can end it – so you can become a more informed consumer.


plastic waste

We are constantly surrounded by single-use plastics and food packaging is a huge contributor to plastic pollution.


Single Use Plastic

Let’s start with the basics: what’s single-use plastic? Single-use plastics are used only once before they are thrown away or recycled. These items are things like plastic bags, straws, coffee stirrers, soda and water bottles and most food packaging.

The History of Plastics

Since the 1950s, over 8.3 billion tons of plastic have been produced globally. That’s A LOT! Unfortunately, most plastics are petroleum based and it can take up to 450 years for a plastic bag to decompose in nature.

In the late 1970s, it became clear that something had to be done about plastic pollution and environmental groups began to advocate for increased recycling. Introducing recycling in the common public proved harder than thought.

It is calculated that only 9% of all plastics produced have been recycled.

What happens to the rest? Most of it ends up in our oceans and in nature and is there to stay – at least for another couple hundred years or so.


How long does plastic take to biodegrade chart

Most plastics are petroleum based and can take hundreds of years to biodegrade. This graphic shows how many years it takes for some common, everyday plastic products to biodegrade.

Plastic in Nature

The problem with plastic isn’t just a plastic bag floating through the air. Plastic pollution is killing animals, interrupting ecosystems, and causing a toxic environment affecting the health of people and planet. 

Plastic pollution is especially detrimental to our oceans. Plastic can hurt tiny organisms like plankton, which larger animals rely on for food. If small organisms are poisoned from ingesting plastic, the animals that eat them will also consume toxins. The toxins work their way up the food chain and can even be present in the fish people eat.

Larger pieces of plastic can also be problematic because when animals come into contact with the waste, they risk becoming entangled in the plastic and suffocating. Each year, 1.1 million sea animals die due to plastic pollution. Plastic also contains toxic chemicals that containments our groundwater and air, causing health issues such as asthma and other chronic diseases.

New studies find that microplastics, tiny pieces of plastic resulting from degraded plastic debris, are in our groundwater. According to Orb Media, over 90% of plastic water bottles contained water contaminated with microplastics.

To put these numbers into perspective, in 2019 an average human is calculated to ingest around 5 grams of plastic a week, the same amount of plastic as a credit card. Though there has not been definitive research done on the subject, these microplastics contain chemicals that have been linked to cancer and other health concerns.

If this information has left you feeling hopeless, hang in there! Keep reading for some inspiring work around the world and find out how you can help.


Plastic waste on a beach

Plastic that is not recycled properly often ends up in our oceans.

Plastic Prevention Around The World 

In the past decade, there has been a rising movement informing the public about plastic pollution and pushing officials to making changes.

In 2017, Kenya was the first country to take a stance against plastic pollutionwhen they made it punishable by law to buy, sell, or produce single-use plastic bags.

Since many countries have followed. The UK has implemented a 25-year plan banning single use plastics in the country and inspiring the rest of the world to follow. Taiwan announced one of the farthest-reaching bans on plastic in the world, restricting the use of single-use plastic bags, straws, utensils, and cups.These are just some examples of many where steps have been taken to limit plastic waste – there are many others!

In 2014, California was the first state to ban plastic bags. Since there has been talk of policies banning all single-use plastics by 2030. Many states followed California – for example, Hawaii, Maine, and New York. Vermont recently implemented the most comprehensive plastic ban in the U.S. The bill signed by legislators states that single-use plastics, everything from wrappers to straws, will be illegal in Vermont by summer 2020.

Take Action

You don’t have to be a global leader to fight plastic pollution. Waste has become a negative byproduct of our daily lives, but it doesn’t have to be! According to 5 Gyres’s Plastic Ban List, the top six sources of plastic pollution include food wrappers and containers, bottle and container caps, plastic bags, straws and stirrers, and take out containers which are all products that can be easily eliminated from our everyday lives.

Our top tips to limit plastic waste are:

  1. Store your food in reusable containers and jars. Our favorite containers are from U-Konserve and they come in many different shapes and sizes to fit whatever you decide to store.
  2. Replace the plastic water bottles, single use coffee cups, and plastic straws for reusable products. Not only does this reduce plastic waste but it is also beneficial to your health as you will decrease the amount of microplastics and other toxins you ingest. Klean Kanteen have many water bottles in different shapes and colors.
  3. By your groceries in bulk. This way you’ll avoid plastic packaging for many different products and just use one container! Your wallet will also thank you. Watch THIS guide how to buy organic food in bulk by Eco Goddess.
  4. Support restaurants, stores, and companies that are committed to sustainable packaging. And speak up! Does your favorite restaurant not use sustainable packaging? Speak up and ask for an alternative!
  5. Think twice before buying new! Buying second hand can reduce the amount of new plastic in the system.

Now that you know the basics about plastic, it is time to take action and lower your waste! Plastic Free July is a great time to get inspired and to start making change, both in your life and in your community.

If you want to become more informed about other environmental issues and equip yourself to be a future climate leader, sign up for Project Green Challenge 2019. Beginning on October 1, 2019, Project Green Challenge (PGC) seeks to inform, inspire and mobilize high school, college, and grad school students globally. This powerful and diverse call to action features 30 days of environmentally–themed challenges. PGC aims to touch lives, shift mindsets, and equip students with knowledge, resources and mentorship to lead change on campuses and communities worldwide.

Sign up here:

Happy Plastic Free July!


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