Plastic is a durable material made to last forever, yet 33 percent of it is used once and then discarded. Unfortunately, plastic cannot biodegrade and only breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces.
What about recycling? Americans alone discard more than 30 million tons of plastic a year; only 8 percent of it gets recycled. The rest ends up in landfills or becomes litter. Did you know that 80 percent of all marine debris found in the ocean is land-based, and that and 80 to 90 percent of marine debris is made of plastic? That trash you see on the side of the road flows to storm drains that flow to rivers and then to our oceans.
Plastic pollution is affecting terrestrial wildlife as well as marine life; many marine animals ingest plastic mistakenly or become entangled by multi-pack rings. Plastics account for roughly 1 billion bird deaths each year, and around two-thirds of fish populations test positive for plastics. But plastic is not only a threat for wildlife; as plastic debris floats around the ocean, it begins to soak up harmful chemicals such as DDT that have leached into the ocean. In turn, when fish eat these plastics, they are then contaminated themselves. Humans are then put in potential risk of ingesting chemicals that have been linked to endocrine and cancer-related issues.
How can you help?
It’s easy: Pledge to give up single use plastics. Start with avoiding single-use plastic items like straws, bags and water bottles.
The first important thing that you can do to help is to refuse straws when dining out at restaurants. The United States produces 500 million straws every day, and the majority of these straws end up in the water. These straws can pollute the beaches and oceans and cause harm to the marine wildlife.
The next thing that you can do is to pledge to go plastic-free by using reusable water bottles instead of plastic ones. This will cut down on the amount of plastic that is being used. Every hour, Americans use about 3 million water bottles, and less than 30 percent of these are actually recycled. The majority of these plastic bottles will end up in the ocean, polluting the water. Using reusable water bottles will not only help save the environment, but will also help save you money.
Another thing that you can do to help is to bring reusable bags to the grocery store, instead of using plastic bags. Every minute, there are about 1 million single-use plastic bags that are used worldwide, and only about 1% of these recycled.
Choose even just one of these habits to start today, and you’ll be making a difference!
Conservation Education Initiatives Supervisor