We love our plastic, there’s no denying it. It’s strong, it’s durable, it’s convenient and it can be shaped into myriad shapes, which is why it was hailed as a wondrous material back in the 1950s. Fast forward 60 years, and it’s also ruining our planet.
Today, there’s an estimated 5.25 trillion plastic particles weighing in at 268,940 tons that are floating in the ocean alone. It’s no wonder scientists are looking for ways to tackle The Great Pacific Garbage Patch at this point, we’re practically floating in the stuff.
Want to help out the cause by cleaning up your own act? Here are 10 commonly used plastics to avoid if you want to do your part in saving the planet.
It’s easy to think you’re doing something good for yourself when you drink a refreshing bottle of water, but what happens to that bottle once you’ve finished its contents? That bottle doesn’t biodegrade, it photodegrades, which means it takes at least 1,000 years for one single bottle to disappear. That bottles up to a whole lot of junk.
With all the fast food we consume these days, it’s no wonder that utensils, cups (especially coffee cups) and plates are all culprits in the planet’s ongoing plastics problem. But one of the biggest offenders remains plastic straws. Researchers in Australia estimate there are anywhere from 437 million to 8.3 billion plastic straws floating around the world’s coastlines, and that’s just counting those found near the water. Kinda sucks, huh?
It might not seem like a big deal to purchase those plastic grocery bags when you’re checking out at the supermarket. But just one of those bags is used for maybe 15 minutes, and then has a shelf life of about a thousand years as it hangs around the landfill or ocean. With roughly 500 billion plastic bags used every year around the world, that’s certainly a mounting problem.
These popular party favours may be perfect for a fete, but totally blow when it comes to the negative effects they have on the environment. Not only does the plastic take hundreds of years to decompose, but during that time balloons have a pretty detrimental effect on marine life and birds, too.
Have leftovers? Wrap it up, they say. Unfortunately that saying has been taken way too literally, especially with some grocery stores and chains going so far as to wrap fruits and vegetables that come in a natural protective layer (like bananas and oranges) in the plastic stuff. It’s no wonder some are calling it “pollution for profit.”
We already know that cigarettes are completely bad for our health, but here’s another reason to butt out: they’re terrible for the environment too. Cigarette butts were the most washed up type of plastic-containing debris found in a recent study of Sydney beaches, nearly tripling foam insulation and packaging waste, the second-biggest culprit.
Single-serve coffee machines may finally be decreasing in popularity thanks to the environmental concerns they raise, but we’re not out of the K-Cup disaster zone just yet. In 2015 there were a reported 10 billion environment-wrecking pods produced, which would basically encircle the globe more than 12 times at the equator, say experts.
Whether you use these moist toilettes for a baby’s bottom, to remove your makeup or to sanitize your hands, there’s nothing actually “disposable” about them. In fact, disposable wet wipes contain plastic (often non-biodegradable polyester) that, when flushed down the toilet, can take up to 500 years to disappear.
Don’t think coffee drinkers are the only ones doing damage to the environment: tea drinkers are unknowingly causing harm too. It turns out some tea bag brands use polypropylene, a plastic that seals the bags together to keep all of those tiny tea leaves in, and we’re unwillingly throwing that plastic into the food waste or compost bin, where it takes years to disappear.
There’s something to be said about personal hygiene, but at what cost? While a clean shave is worth a million bucks, there are roughly two billion razors tossed into the garbage each year in the U.S. alone, according to reports. That’s a whole heck of a lot of reasons to ditch the plastic disposables and invest in an electric or straight razor instead.