What you can do to fight the growing tide of plastic pollution

Use matches or a refillable metal lighter instead of cheap, plastic lighters. PHOTO: supplied
Use matches or a refillable metal lighter instead of cheap, plastic lighters. PHOTO: supplied

OVER the past few years, there has been a massive increase in the awareness around the damaging effects of plastic on the environment.

According to an article by the BBC, 8,3 billion metric tons of plastic has been produced to date, generating 6,3 billion metric tons of waste, only nine percent of which has been recycled. Unfortunately, due to poor waste management, a huge portion of discarded plastic reaches our world’s oceans, causing massive destruction to marine life.

“Plastic pollution is costing our planet on an ever-increasing scale. Each one of us is responsible for reducing our consumption of plastic products and reusing and recycling wherever possible. We can all make a change, many of which are cost savers,” said Susan Steward, a marketing manager.

Steward suggests 10 changes you can make to make a difference.

Skip single-use plastics. The recent movement towards banning and boycotting straws has taken the world, and South Africa, by storm, with many establishments either not offering them at all or only providing them if a customer requests one. Other single-use plastics include sandwich bags and cling film.

What you can do: use solid plastic containers for your sandwiches.

Plastic where you’d least expect it. Ever heard of microbeads? These are the tiny plastic scrubbers added to many beauty products like facial scrubs, shower gels and toothpaste. Because of their size, they slip through water-treatment plants and since a lot of waste still ends up in the ocean, marine animals ingest these particles, mistaking them for food. Many of these animals have starved to death because their stomachs were filled with indigestible plastics.

What you can do: purchase products made with natural exfoliates, like oatmeal or salt, or even better, make your own.

Go gumless. Originally, chewing gum was made using a natural rubber found in tree sap. Then scientists created synthetic rubber, and the chemicals polyethylene and polyvinyl acetate started replacing the natural rubber in most chewing gum so essentially you are chewing on plastic.

What you can d o: pop a breath mint instead.

Watch what goes in your trolley. Everything from detergents to pasta sauces come in a variety of packaging, including plastic.

What you can do: whenever possible, and wherever your budget allows, buy items packed in boxes or glass bottles instead. You can reuse the jars and easily recycle the boxes.

• Boycott bottled water. Bottled water results in 1,5 million tons of plastic waste per year, and making these bottles requires millions of litres of oil.

What you can do: avoid buying bottled water and if you have to, purchase a bigger bottle to last longer. At work, keep a reusable bottle on your desk and your own mug to avoid using plastic or Styrofoam cups for water of coffee.

Matches trump lighters. Cheap plastic lighters remain in landfills for years and they’ve even been found in the stomachs of dead birds.

What you can do: use matches or a refillable metal lighter instead.

The real expense of single servings. While it’s really convenient to buy everything in single servings, especially for lunch boxes, it’s also expensive and adds up to a bulky addition to landfills.

What you can do: buy things like nuts, dried fruit, biltong and chips in bulk and split the contents into smaller reusable containers.

When you can’t reduce or reuse, recycle. Companies like Petco have various drop-off sites for plastic waste around the country, with an excellent search function that allows you to find a drop-off site closest to you.

What you can do: keep a separate bin or bag in your kitchen for plastic waste and make that trip to a drop-off site to dispose of it.

Say bye-bye to bubble wrap. It seems like the most obvious way to protect delicate gifts or fragile household items but it is extremely wasteful, especially when it’s not reused.

What you can do: use newspaper instead, or if you’re moving home, use linen and clothes to protect fragile items.

Entertain in style. It’s certainly easier to use disposable plastic crockery and cutlery when having a party or braai but these items are extremely damaging to the environment.

What you can do: use silverware and ceramic crockery instead and of course, watch your water usage when washing up.

“Implementing just some of these changes in your daily life could make a real difference to the planet, and your pocket,” said Steward. “We owe it to Mother Earth not only to put these tips into practice but to share our knowledge and spread the word.”

— Supplied.

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