To quote Aristotle; “We are what we repeatedly do”.
On average it takes 21 days to create a new habit, and 66 before it becomes automatic. As humans we all live entrenched in habits, some of them serve us and our environment well, others do not. Our journey with plastics began as a very easy habit to embrace; convenient, cheap and disposable. Now some seventy years later it is becoming all to clear that our plastic consumption is having a devastating effect on our environment, particularly our oceans and the marine life within it.
Approximately 10 to 20 million tons of plastic enter our oceans annually (as reported by the Worldwatch Institute), 80% of this plastic starts its journey on land ending up in drainage sewers and waterways and eventually the ocean. Billions of pounds of plastic are found gathering in circulating patterns called gyres formed by ocean currents from prevailing winds. These gyres rotate slowly gathering flotsam and manmade garbage and then spitting roughly half of it out. Some of this plastic garbage floats free and is pushed backed to shore, and the rest collects in the eye of each gyre remaining relatively motionless. Scientists have confirmed that there are now nine major gyres in the oceans, the largest one (The Great Pacific Garbage Patch), is located off the coast of California and measures twice the size of Texas!
Marine creatures feed on the plastic in the ocean as they mistakenly confuse the plastic for food. Unable to digest the plastic they have eaten, it remains in their bellies and they die of starvation. Over a million sea birds and marine animals are killed annually from ingesting plastic.
Scientists are now predicting that there will be more plastic by weight than fish in the oceans by 2050.
A Booming Industry
Plastic is a durable, malleable, lightweight material. Its use as a packaging material has seen massive growth over the last three decades. We use plastics throughout the day in a multitude of products. Some for longer term use; electronics, cellphones, carpets, household appliances, lawn furniture, children’s toys and clothing etc. or short-term plastics; toothbrushes, ballpoint pens, plastic razors and lighters, and the most wasteful of all; single-use plastics; shopping bags, take out cups, containers and cutlery, and plastic packaging, all of which are discarded after one use.
Approximately four percent of virgin petroleum is used in the manufacture of plastics each year, half of which is used to make single-use plastics, or packaging that serves no re-use purpose.
So how do we break the “plastic habit”?
The first step is acknowledging that this is a global issue and then addressing which of your daily habits are contributing to the problem. Taking responsibility for your daily actions is one of the most powerful ways to bring about positive change.
The easiest place to start is in your home. Take a look at the food you are regularly purchasing and what kind of packaging it is in:
- Animal and Poultry: the Styrofoam meat trays and saran wrap are not sustainable choices for packaging. Here on Gabriola local butcher (Island Meat and Deli) offers alternative packaging for meat and poultry.
- Fruit and vegetables: aim to avoid those that come packaged in plastic. Shop locally at farmers markets and road side farm stands or sign up for a weekly veggie box to avoid excess plastic packaging. The Gabriola Food Hub Veg Box offers a selection of veggies from four different farms. Local organic food is better for you and you will not be contributing to a massive omissions trail to transport the food to your table. Local food also supports food security and sustainability on Gabriola.
- Say “No” to plastic shopping bags: Single-use shopping bags are used for approximately 13 minutes before being discarded. They are also the most common item found in oceans and on beaches. Plan to take your reusable cloth bag with you every time you go shopping and always have some in your car.
- Refuse to buy bottled water: It requires three times the amount of water to produce a plastic bottle than it does to fill it. Globally we buy a million plastic bottles every minute. Only 1 in 5 of those bottles are recycled. It takes up to 1000 years for a plastic water bottle to decompose. Aim to carry the water you need in a reusable stainless-steel water bottle when ever you go out.
- Curb your use of single-use plastics: 50% of the plastic we use, we use just once and throw away. Pay attention to how often you use the following: take-out cups, lids and containers, disposable cutlery and straws, single-serving yoghurt containers. Once I was aware of how often I used these items I took steps to replace them with reusable alternatives; carry take-out mugs and reusable utensils in your bag and car.
- Buy more of your food in bulk: Zero Waste grocery stores are popping up in Europe and North America as more consumers push for a shift away from standard plastic packaging. Bulk bins offer us the ability to avoid the packaging completely. This is easy to do when buying dried goods where you can use your own lightweight cloth bags as a container to purchase grains and legumes or nuts and seeds.
- When selecting other foods not in bulk, opt for products packaged in glass, aluminum, cardboard or paper.
Let local supermarkets know that you would like to see a larger shift to a store with less conventional plastic packaging and to be able to bring your own reusable containers when shopping. If the companies that currently supply stores feel the pressure from us the consumers then there will be more of a push to create alternatives.
Just as corporations have played a significant role in marketing plastics as convenient, they could also now market the concept that reusable containers make more sense both environmentally and sustainably.
As there are so many issues we are currently facing as a planet it is easy to believe that there is nothing we can do as individuals to effect positive change. But in reality, we can have a large collective impact by simply embracing the four R’s; Rethink, Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.
Come to GIRO on Wednesdays or Saturdays and speak to the team in the Recycling Department to learn more about the four R’s and how you can apply them.