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How To Save The World From Death By Plastic

Image Courtesy of Fast Company

My parents raised me to recycle.

We erred on the side of caution, and nearly everything went in the recycling. Glass, metals, paper, and seemingly dozens of different types of plastic. This made me feel good. Even from an early age, I had the foresight to understand that throwing everything in a landfill wasn’t ever going to be a permanent solution. So, I took pride in my recycling habit.

Only years later did I understand that much of this feel-goodery was an illusion. While the metal, glass, and paper most likely made it’s way to a genuine recycling program, the plastics did not.

In the U.S.A. most of our plastic that is thrown in the recycling bin isn’t actually recycled. Even though there are dozens, if not hundreds, of variants of plastic compositions, we recycle just two types; #1 (PET) and #2 (HDPE). Nearly everything else goes to the landfill, where it will remain forever.

Plastic doesn’t break down over time like other materials such as wool, paper, cotton, and wood. Instead, it only breaks into smaller and smaller pieces. On beaches all over the world, sand as we know it is being slowly replaced by plastic sand.

Let’s hit the beach!

These small pieces are ingested by small fish at the beginning of the food chain. By the time the food source reaches the apex predator at the top, it’s loaded with plastics and the toxins that it so readily absorbs.

Who’s the apex predator? Oh ya, we humans are.

It’s sickening, disturbing, and downright frightening.

Plastic Is The New Cigarette

There was a time when cigarettes were considered safe. Doctors even endorsed them. The industry was hugely powerful, and big tobacco used marketing dollars and lobbyists to suppress the message that cigarettes were actually incredibly harmful.

It took a few decades, but truth ultimately prevailed.

The same thing is happening with the plastics cartel of today. It’s the number three industry in the U.S.; their $400 billion in revenue is only outpaced by the steel and auto industries. Plastic manufacturers use lobbyists to fight legislative bans on plastic bags. or litigate those who vocally oppose, like the ChicoBag Monster.

Their goal? Keeps the average Joe and Jane from thinking twice about their level of plastic consumption. Otherwise, their business model is in jeopardy.

Turn Off The Tap

So how do we stop the

world from being ruined by plastic? Should we spend billions in legislation or in cleanup programs?

No. Well, at least not yet.

We have to stop it at the source. Legislation can only go so far. We’ve got to tell the world that “We want less plastic”, and the best way to do that is to…use less plastic.

Don’t think you can make a difference? In aggregate, you are the biggest force for this change in this world.

“You are the biggest force for this change in this world.”

It’s a dangerous paradigm to think otherwise. If everyone thinks they can make a difference, we will. If nobody does, we won’t.

I’m not asking you to spend more on plastic alternatives. I’m not asking you to radically alter your lifestyle and your habits. I’m asking you to think of one simple question more often throughout the day…

“Do I really need this plastic bag/cup/lid/container?”

When the bagger at the grocery store is going to put your box of cookies in a plastic bag, stop him or her and say, “Oh, it’s OK, I don’t need a bag.”

When you plan to enjoy a caffeinated beverage at a coffee shop, specifically request a glass or ceramic cup. (Many coffee shops seem to default to plastic, even when you don’t need a “to-go” cup.)

When you pick up take out food, don’t ask for plastic forks and knives. You’ve got metal ones at home, they’ll work just fine.

When compounded over millions of people and thousands of days, these seemingly small acts add up to be produce monumental change for the better.

I’m not asking for a favor, here. Consuming less plastic doesn’t do me any more good than it does for you. Don’t do this for me. Do this for yourself. Do it for the people that fought to keep the planet healthy yesterday, for your family and friends of today, and for the future generations of tomorrow. Do it for the kids being born today that, through no fault of their own, will receive a trashed and defunct world as a hand-me-down thanks to our shortsightedness.

Unless we do something about it today.

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