Last June, I had the humbling experience of scuba diving the Great Barrier Reef during my yearlong travels around Australia. I consider myself lucky to have had my first real underwater experience in this great wonder of the earth. I'm someone who has always felt anxiety around the concept of open water due to the unknown beneath the surface. Because of this, I am so glad I took the plunge (literally) to discover the reality of what's below, and the images of the underwater ecosystem in action still burn clearly in my memory. I remember stretching my arms towards the swirling schools of beautiful fish and being amazed by their ability to swiftly evade my touch.
Unfortunately these fish and all other sea creatures are not able to evade other more horrifying forms of human influence. I'm talking about the escalating destruction of our oceans through our overuse and disposal of plastics. We add millions of tons of this waste every year - and it's not just from careless beachgoers or underdeveloped coastal towns and cities. It's from me. It's from you.
It's estimated that about 80% of plastics in oceans are land-sourced from areas that aren't near the ocean. As a result, we're turning this big blue planet into shiny flecks and shards of every color. These flecks slowly kill by building up in the digestive systems of fish, whales, dolphins, birds, turtles, and many others. And if you're a seafood eater, you better believe those itty bits of plastic have ended up on your plate and rest somewhere in your system, too.
Here are just some of the environmental stats:
- 50% of the plastic we use is used only once then thrown away (EcoWatch)
- It takes 500-1,000 years for plastic to degrade (EcoWatch)
- The US throws away 35 billion bottles of plastic water bottles every year (not to include other types of plastic bottles) (Brita)
- Each person on average uses and disposes 300 lbs of single-use plastic per year (A Plastic Ocean)
- One million sea birds and 100,000 marine mammals are killed per year from plastic in the oceans (EcoWatch)
- The largest ocean garbage site is located off the coast of California and is a floating mass larger than the size of Texas
And some health info:
- Our bodies absorb a variety of toxins that come from plastic (heard of BPA, cadmium, or mercury?)
- Research shows that some plastic compounds interfere with healthy hormonal function
- The plastic pollutants that end up in our seafood are transferred to us upon consumption
For these reasons and many more, starting on the 1st of July I'm going to participate in the Plastic Free July movement (more info at plasticfreejuly.org). For the next 31 days (and beyond), I plan to do the following:
- Eliminate my use of single-use plastic (water bottles, coffee cups, straws, lids, and plastic shopping bags)
- When possible, choose grocery store produce that's not wrapped in plastic
- Support retailers that offer items to be purchased in bulk
- Support dining locations that use glassware and/or compostable products (like The Juice Laundry!)
- Fill my purse with my favorite reusable water bottle, a fork and spoon, and a glass container if purchasing takeout
- Use aluminum foil instead of plastic wrap
- Storing and reheating in glass containers
And let’s face it – plastic is all around us. I’d go as far as saying it’s impossible to avoid. However, when many people make small changes, it starts a movement that can make a world of difference on the health of the planet. If you knew that by refusing just one disposable coffee cup you could save dozens of marine lives from swallowing the bits of your cup, would you do it? Think - is there any kind of plastic you can easily stop consuming? If you could commit to just one of the changes I listed above, what would it be?
I've got my reusable bags and cups at the ready. How about you?
P.S: to learn more about this issue and see some amazing footage, check out A Plastic Ocean on Netflix live streaming.