There is so much news and information about plastics and how they are ruining our planet that it can start to sound like endless chatter after a while. So, let us help sift through all the noise and break it down in an easy, understandable way, giving you some simple, actionable ways that you can think about and help confront this immense problem that feels so hopelessly overwhelming. Because, if we do nothing, our addiction to this almost-indestructible material will continue choking the world, causing irreparable damage from which our most beloved planet will not be able to survive.
According to the latest stats that we could find:
- Humans are producing over 300 million tons of plastic every year - 50% of that is single use plastic.
- More than 8 million tons of plastic is dumped, or otherwise ends up, in the oceans every year.
- 1 in 3 species of marine mammals has been found entangled in marine litter.
- Over 90% of all seabirds have been found to have plastic pieces in their stomachs.
Put simply - we’ve dumped our trash into the water supply and imposed it upon an animal population that never contributed to this problem, but are the ones left suffering from it all the same.
You might ask, is all plastic bad? Well, in a nutshell, no. Some Plastics are not only helpful but are even useful in everyday life and if we asked people to stop using plastics all together, most people would laugh in our collective face. So let’s be honest with ourselves, it is never going to happen in our lifetime. Does that mean us green-wanna-be’s are supposed to give up? To that I say a resounding HELL NO! Like everything else in life, we just need to find a balance.
Let’s start with what I do, why I think it’s “easy” and give some suggestions that might be helpful. You can all then pick and choose what works for you.
First and foremost, doing something is better than doing nothing. It’s not just to make you feel good - and anyone who says that is plain wrong. It’s a question of volumes. We need lots of people to buy-in, to understand, and to make changes. It’s the theory of pennies in a bucket. When we used to carry actual cash, back in the “dark ages”, if you saved your pennies in a bucket every time you got home, you’d shortly realize that there was a decent amount of money there. If you then moved to throwing all your change in the bucket and only kept those lightweight bills in your wallet - cha-ching! You suddenly had enough money to go to a fancy dinner or buy a fab pair of boots. Same thing rings true here - but instead of that fancy dinner, or fab boots, in this case we get a cleaner planet and a better future for ourselves and the generations to follow.
Plastic Bags: Annually approximately 500 B - for billion! - plastic bags are used worldwide
TIP 1: Way back in the early 2000s I started to carry reusable canvas bags for my shopping at my local farmers-market. Some of the vendors even called me “the bag lady” because they thought it was kinda silly. If I forgot my bags, I literally carried all the stuff in my arms to my car, even if I had to make several trips. And then I did the same when I got home. My new routine quickly expanded to my supermarket shopping, and let me tell you, after forgetting a few times, and it being such a huge pain in the butt, I suddenly seemed to remember. I left extra bags in my car. I found ultra-light, foldable bags to keep in my purse or backpack. Saying no to ALL plastic bags is a great way to start. Now I also say no to paper bags. But here’s the important part - sometimes, just sometimes, I’m in a pickle for one reason or the other. And then I take the bag! I try to use it for trash or other stuff. I don’t just throw it away.
Plastic Bottles and Containers: In the US alone, over 70 million water bottles are used each day
TIP 2: So kudos to us for drinking so much water. But those darn bottles gotta go somewhere, right? And that somewhere is landfills and oceans. So, yes, it’s heavy to carry water. Yes, it can spill in your bag. Yes, it’s worth it. I’m a big tea drinker. Even in the summer, I love hot tea. I tried many, MANY different containers for tea and what I found is Contigo makes awesome bottles! It keeps hot stuff hot, and when I take cold water to the beach, it says seriously cold for endless hours! So man-up and carry your drinks! Use them to do bicep curls. Drink it fast so it’s lighter. Or, when you are out and MUST get hydrated - hand the barista your bottle and get a refill.
TIP 2.1: Plastic Deli Containers - so who doesn’t love plastic deli containers? They stack, they keep the food really fresh, and they are fun to just eat from - that’s why it’s called "straight out of the container”! But, they're still plastic. Deli containers are made of polypropylene which is usually considered to be a “good” plastic because in life cycle-impact analysis it often comes out better than, say, polystyrene (styrofoam), or polyethylene (plastic bags). So let’s reuse them for as long as we can safely. This means washing them by hand or only on the top rack in the dishwasher. This also means not being embarrassed, but in fact proud, to bring them with you and ask the deli person to use the one you’ve brought for your beet salad. Keep an eye on them for any signs of breakdown in which case they need to be put in the recycle bin. And don’t just keep them forever. A good rule of thumb is a few months. And please, please - do NOT put them in the microwave - it’s seriously not safe. OR - try my new favorite obsession - Stasher silicone storage bags that seriously close properly and easily and go through the dishwasher and microwave without issue.
TIP 3: Food Scraps - sooooo, a while ago, I was feeling super guilty because I was not composting. So like a good little greenie-wanna-be, I got a gorgeous drum composter with TWO chambers. Wow!!! So exciting! All I was ever able to produce was goop. Not compost. I added dead leaves, I added newspaper, I added dirt, I added worms - still goop. So I mentioned this to my farmer friends at the farmers markets and they said “oh, we’ll take your fruit and veggie scraps for our pigs” 🐷 and my heart jumped! Piggies! I love piggies (we’ll skip the “what happens to the piggies at the end of season” discussion for now). So I started bagging and freezing my scraps. Leave out the orange rinds because the pigs don’t like it. Banana peels are a maybe. But it was fantastic! Every Sunday I dropped my scraps and sometimes was rewarded with a lovely video of said piggies enjoying loads of watermelon rind. And it turns out that they will take the scraps any time of year as long as I can drop them to the farm. So, try to compost. And if you’re like me, and your thumb is more green than brown, speak to a local farmer and see if they can take it.
Now for some bad stuff. We don’t want to hear the scary shit - but honestly, we can’t stick our head in the sand any longer. We need to know this stuff.
- The average human being eats 70,000 micro plastics a year
- 99% of plastics come from fossil fuels which in itself releases an array of toxins into the air and water. Many of these are already known definitively to cause harm to humans including cancer, neurological and reproductive problems, and developmental issues.
- Micro plastics, by many estimates, are found in over 90% of water that comes in plastic bottles, and 95% of foods that come in plastic containers - so you’re actually ingesting it.
- In many places, including Europe and parts of the US, plastic garbage is still burned/incinerated. This results in the release of harmful chemicals as well as micro plastics into the environment. So by default, you are breathing the stuff into your lungs.
So my green-ish friends, I leave you with these words of optimism and love: do something, anything. It will always be better than nothing. Don’t let anyone tell you that your small actions don’t count. At Eir NYC we still use plastics. Sometimes by necessity, sometimes because better alternatives don’t yet exist, sometimes because we simply can’t afford it. But we plug along, doing what we can do, and sometimes, like today, we can make a big jump. But all the little jumps count too. 💚
Eir's new reduced Plastic shipping materials initiative
For our part at Eir, as part of our initiative to strive for greener, more sustainable ways to operate, we’ve removed over 90% of the plastic from our shipping materials! Bye-bye bubble plastic, bye-bye plastic packing tape!
To solve the sustainability puzzle in our shipping logistics, we swapped out the plastics for biodegradable paper materials that are equally effective and help protect our planet. Sounds small, but it’s truly HUGE! Finding greener solutions as a small business requires diligence. But, much like our community, we love a good challenge 💪
Chief Eir Head