Consider this: As a whole, humans have produced 9.2 billion tons of plastic. And the thing is, there’s no infrastructure to deal with this waste—6.3 billion of those tons will never meet a recycling bin, according to a study published by Science Advances. That’s equivalent to the weight of one billion elephants.
Plastic is making headlines for its devastating impact on our oceans and marine life. It constitutes around 90% of all trash floating on the ocean’s surface, according to Earth’s Oceans Foundation. Not only does that kill millions of endangered sea life every year, but also leads fish to ingest microplastics—teeny tiny bits of plastic broken down by ultraviolet light and waves.
That’s not only problematic for sea life; it’ll ultimately get to us when we eat sea life. Microplastics have been found in sea salt and even mineral water, according to a study published in Water Research.
Companies and politicians are finally taking cues from environmental activists to reduce our plastic usage. But on a personal level, have you ever sat down to think about how much single-use plastic you really use?
Plastic production is booming
Humans have produced more plastic over the last 10 years than during the whole of the last century. One million plastic bottles are bought around the world every minute, according to The Guardian, and the numbers are rising.
Plastics have helped advance space exploration, aviation, and medicine. The problem with plastic is that we produce it for things we don’t need.
According to nonprofit Plastic Oceans, roughly half the world’s plastic is used just one time–like that plastic straw in your iced coffee, or the cutlery you get with your takeout order.
What makes plastic more problematic is that it’s nonbiodegradable and can stick around for up to 1,000 years.
We’ve been told time and time again that recycling is the solution to the plastic problem. However, the issue is too big for just recycling to fix, and may distract us from the real problem: our overproduction of plastics.
These stats aren’t meant to drag you down, and don’t think that the fight against plastic is a lost cause. It’s a wake-up call to action, for the sake of our planet and generations to come. Currently, there’s a positive EU-wide trend towards less plastic usage, with plastic straws and disposable tableware to be banned across the EU from 2021.
Government regulations like these are key. But here are some practical ways you can personally join in the anti-plastic movement and make everyday changes to help reduce plastic pollution.
1. Stop using plastics
Sounds obvious (and hard), right? Yes—habits are hard to break. But to really test yourself, take note of how many times you habitually encounter single-use plastic in your day-to-day. Keep a written record if you can!
Then, pinpoint the instances that are truly unnecessary. Maybe you’re buying things in small packages, when you could buy in bulk. Maybe you ordered an ice cream in a plastic cup, rather than a cone. Be conscious of these small decisions.
Finally, come up with a plan to eliminate (or at least drastically cut) your unnecessary plastic usage. While making a single environmental choice won’t help much on its own, creating positive habits to reduce your plastic usage could go a long way.
Fortunately, there are dozens of quick hacks that make it easier than ever to cut down on your plastic usage.
If you love your morning coffee, either brew it at home and take it to work in a thermo-mug, or keep a reusable mug in your bag for your morning coffee break. At the very least, buy a metal straw, and take it with you to your local coffee shop.
The initiative Better-World-Cup in Berlin is leading the way to drastically reduce the consumption of disposable cups. So if you get your morning brew in a café that participates in the movement, you’ll not only enjoy their coffee, but at the same time receive a discount if you bring your own cup. An additional option is to make use of RECUP, a country-wide deposit system for coffee-to-go cups.
Another rather obvious thing to do is to avoid using plastic bottles. Tap water quality in Germany is generally pretty good—so health-wise there’s no actual need to rely on bottled water.
Instead, make use of your good old Brita water filter, or if you’re into sparkling water, buy a Sodastream. Fun fact: You can actually refill your reusable water bottles on the go, thanks to over 5200 Refill Stations and wells throughout Germany.
Groceries and supermarkets have also embraced the fight on plastic for several years by now, namely by charging for plastic bags. However, the plan for this year is for them to completely disappear from the stores. Thankfully, many of us are already carrying one of those cute foldable bags in their backpack at all times, in order to avoid those “oh no, I forgot to bring a bag again!” situations.
2. Buy more sustainable clothing
According to estimates by the World Conservation Union (IUCN), about 1.5 million tons of microplastics end up in the sea every year. Two thirds of these are fibers from clothing.
But what can you actually do about it?
Try to minimize the amount of clothes you own made from polyester and nylon. Instead, you should focus on buying natural fibers such as cotton, bamboo or hemp. And remember: Less is more 😉. Do you really need an entirely fresh wardrobe every season?
We are all familiar with the phenomenon of having a closet full of clothes—but nothing to wear. Buy smart, purchasing items that you can combine. If you feel like you do or you really crave some new showstoppers, go visit some thrift stores in your neighborhood. You’re not only helping the environment by buying second-hand clothes, but you’ll also be wearing unique pieces that nobody else has.
We also suggest motivating yourself (and others!) to stop using so much plastic through the power of social influence. In an interview with Hidden Brain, Behavioral Economist and Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman said that the best way to nudge people towards making environmentally conscious decisions is through social proof.
In other words, if you know that ‘everyone’ (aka, the people you know) pays more attention to their plastic usage, you’ll be much more likely to stop than if you simply hear a statistic about the harms of plastic.
So gather your friends and work together. Whether it’s arranging a clothes-swap with your buddies, co-workers or your community, or sharing on your favorite social media platform when you found a nice new store that sells great second-hand clothing, push one another to be mindful of our environment
3. Food & Packaging
If you love ordering takeout from your favorite Chinese restaurant, tell them you don’t want any plastic cutlery delivered. And, if you’re really committed to the cause, hop on your bike and pick up the food with reusable containers!
You can apply this thinking to your grocery shopping, too. Buying in bulk will cut down on plastic packaging, and it won’t hurt your bank account either. Today, there are more sustainable-friendly stores than ever that allow you to bring your own containers from home when buying bulk goods. To find the closest option near you, check out this list of zero waste shops all over Germany, divided by county.
Zero Waste Nerd Shia Su suggests that if you want to skip wrapped fruits and veggies and can afford to buy organic, try local farmers markets, join a CSA (community supported agriculture) or order organic produce boxes (“Biokisten”).
Even tech companies are taking notice of plastic waste— Apple has already made changes to the iPhone packaging, using 84% less plastic, according to Business Insider.
4. Support the cause
Forward-thinking companies like Loop are offering a new zero-waste platform. The program allows consumers to purchase products made from reusable containers that can be returned and reused. For now, Loop is available in New York and Paris and has just launched a pilot program in the UK, partnering with Tesco. However, it’s planning to expand to additional countries in 2021, including Germany.
Another approach is supporting non-profit organizations that are working tirelessly to help solve the plastic problem. Ozeankind, an environmental NGO and a member of Lemonade’s Giveback program, gathers volunteers for their so-called Plastikrebell Cleanup events in order to collect as much plastic and trash as possible. Since November 2017, when the first cleanup event took place, more than 1,000 people in 36 countries have participated in 20 events and have managed to collect more than 55 tons of waste!
One Earth – One Ocean is another wonderful environmental nonprofit in Lemonade’s Giveback program. With the help of their ‘Marine Litter Cleanup’ concept, they use special waste-collection ships to gather plastic, which is then recycled or converted into sulphur-free heating oil.
Although there’s no magic way to cure our plastic problem, there is a growing movement of concerned individuals and communities who are working together to create change. We can’t reverse the damage, but we can work together to fight for solutions to improve the planet for generations to come.