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. Companies like Starbucks and plenty of local coffee shops also offer small discounts when you bring in your reusable cup. At the very least, buy a metal straw, and take it with you to your local cafe.
Another rather obvious thing to do is to avoid using plastic bottles. Tap water quality in the Netherlands 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.
Groceries and supermarkets started embracing the fight on plastic in 2016, namely by charging for plastic bags. Because of this law, about 83% of the Dutch people now take their own shopping bags with them to the store!
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. Check out this list to find zero waste shops all over the Netherlands. There are more out there than you might think!
Zero waste activists Nicky and Jessie give some great tips on living environmentally friendly. Their Instagram feed is a great resource for info on where to buy eco-friendly headphones or sustainable shoes, how to make your own body lotion, and even how to use a worm bin (yes, you heard that right).
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. They are expanding worldwide so we will hopefully also see them soon in the Netherlands.
Another approach is supporting non-profit organizations that are working tirelessly to help solve the plastic problem. The Plastic Soup Foundation, an environmental NGO and a member of Lemonade’s Giveback program, tries to tackle the plastic pollution problem. They focus on the link between plastic and human health. By downloading their ‘My Little Plastic Footprint’ app, you can help reduce your own plastic usage.
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.