Tag Archives: Plastic

Plastic recycling is broken. Why does Big Plastic want cities to get $1 billion to fix it?

As the coronavirus pandemic cripples the U.S. economy, corporate giants are turning to Congress for help. Polluting industries have been among the first in line: Congress has already bailed out airlines, and coal companies have snagged over $30 million in federal small-business loans. Big Plastic is next in line with what might seem a surprising request: $1 billion to help fix the country’s recycling.

A group of plastic industry and trade groups sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on April 16, asking Congress to allocate $1 billion to municipal and state recycling infrastructure in the next pandemic stimulus bill. It would be part of legislation known as the RECOVER Act, first introduced in Congress last November. Recycling sounds great, and has long been an environmental policy that almost everyone — Republicans and Democrats both — can get behind. To some environmentalists and advocates, however, the latest push is simply the plastic industry trying to get the federal government to clean up mountains of plastic waste in an attempt to burnish Big Plastic’s image.

“Plastic recycling has been a failure,” said Judith Enck, a former regional director for the Environmental Protection Agency and the founder of the organization Beyond Plastics. “And there’s no reason to try to spend federal tax dollars to try to prop up plastic recycling when it really hasn’t worked for the last 30 years anyway.”

Put simply, very little of your plastic recycling actually gets recycled. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, less than 10 percent of the plastic produced in the past four decades has been recycled; the rest has wound up in landfills or been incinerated. In 2017, the U.S. produced over 35 million tons of plastic, yet less than 3 million tons was made into new products.

Part of the problem is that some items are composed of different types of plastic and chemicals, making them difficult to melt down and process. Only plastics with a “1” or “2” symbol are commonly recycled, and even then, they are more often “downcycled” into different types of products. A container of laundry detergent or a plastic soda bottle might be used for a new carpet or outdoor decking, but rarely into a new bottle. And downcycling is one step closer to the landfill. “The logo of recycling is the arrow that goes around and around — but that’s never been the case with plastic,” said Enck.

Big plastic-producing companies also have little incentive to use recycled materials rather than virgin materials. Plastics are made from petroleum, and when the price of crude oil is as low as it is now, it costs more to manufacture goods from recycled polymers than from crude.

Some analysts say that the RECOVER Act doesn’t take on these larger issues. The act is aimed at the “curbside” aspect of recycling: funding city and state recycling collection, improving sorting at processing plants, and encouraging consumer education — teaching people what can (and cannot) go into recycling bins. (The legislation is also backed by the American Chemistry Council, which represents Dow Chemical and ExxonMobil, and has long fought against municipal plastic bag bans.)

There are some curbside problems with recycling. If plastic bags or containers covered with food waste get into recycling bins, they can contaminate other items and make sorting and reuse more difficult.

But Jonathan Krones, a professor of environmental studies at Boston College, said the real problem isn’t at the curb. It’s that “there aren’t robust, long-term resilient end markets for recycled material.” Even if cities manage to collect and sort more recycling, without markets all those perfectly processed plastics have nowhere to go.

For decades the U.S. solved part of the problem by selling hundreds of thousands of tons of used plastics to China. Then, in 2018, the Chinese government implemented its “National Sword” policy, forbidding the import of 24 types of waste in a campaign against foreign trash. The U.S. suddenly had lost the biggest market for its used plastics, and cities across the U.S. began burning recyclables or sending them to landfills. Some cities have stopped recycling plastic and paper altogether.

Piles of plastic and paper at a city recycling processing plant in Brooklyn, New York. Andrew Lichtenstein / Corbis / Getty Images

So why is Big Plastic pushing the RECOVER Act? Some argue that petroleum companies are trying to paper over the failures of plastic recycling. If consumers realized that only 10 percent of their plastics are ultimately recycled, they might push for bans on plastic bags and other single-use items, or more stringent restrictions on packaging. Keeping the focus on recycling can distract public attention from the piles of plastic waste clogging up our landfills and oceans. And a recent investigation by NPR and Frontline revealed that since the 1970s the plastics industry has backed recycling programs to buttress its public image.

“Had this bill been proposed 10 years ago, I think I would have said it was a good idea,” Krones said, referring to the RECOVER Act. “But what has been revealed after National Sword is that this is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a technology problem. It’s a consumption problem and a manufacturing problem.” He argues that any attempt to fix plastic recycling should come with constraints on the production of new materials — only manufacturing plastics that can be easily broken down and reused, for example, or mandating that companies include a certain percentage of recycled materials in their products.

There are other ways to deal with the plastic problem. In February, Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico, a Democrat, introduced the Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act, which would phase out many single-use plastic items like utensils and straws and require big companies to pay for recycling and composting products — what’s known as “extended producer responsibility.” Other countries have similar laws on the books: Germany has required companies to take responsibility for their own packaging since 1991, and it’s been credited with dramatically reducing waste.

For now, plastic use is on the rise. According to Rachel Meidl, a fellow in energy and environment at Rice University, the pandemic is bringing piles of takeout boxes and plastic bags to landfills, as cities ban reusable bags and enforce social distancing. She thinks that the RECOVER Act could be helpful, but that it needs to be coupled with other interventions.

“No matter how much government funding is allocated towards recycling efforts, there first needs to be a significant paradigm in human behavior,” she said. “Where plastic is viewed as a resource, not a waste.”


Plastic recycling is broken. Why does Big Plastic want cities to get $1 billion to fix it?

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This group is teaching new sailors how to tackle plastic pollution

The Bronx’s City Island docks are a strange mixture of outer-borough New York and New England coast. There are crusty boatyards and pristine yacht clubs, seedy seafood joints and fancy oyster bars, “my she was yar” schooners and “I’m on a boat” party cruisers. But the love of the ocean has always had the ability to bring disparate-seeming forces together — including, in this case, climate activism and the American Sailing Association.

On a recent summer morning, I headed to the docks to watch Dave Jenkins prepare a small sailboat. Life vests and nautical maps in hand, Jenkins — a charismatic middle-aged man decked out in an appropriate sailing ensemble (boat shoes included) — boarded a vessel which was moored at the Harlem Yacht Club. We had been going back and forth for months trying to find the right time to head out on the water, only to be forced to reschedule several times due to unfavorable weather conditions. First it was the cold, then the heat, then torrential rain — the kinds of extremes that climate scientists say we should expect more of in the near future.

But on that day, with the sun shining bright and a slight breeze in the air, Jenkins assured me conditions were “ideal for sailing.”

“This is my playground,” Jenkins said of the open water. But it’s not just his alone — the way he sees it, the water belongs to everyone. He takes his sailboat, the Mary Lou, out regularly, showing students how to explore the five boroughs by way of its many waterways. While many people think of sailing as an exclusive endeavor, Jenkins says there are ways to keep the sport accessible. For example, there are a lot of old sailboats out there that sell for cheap and don’t require expensive fuel compared to one of those pesky motorboats.

“There’s so much to do in the city, they forget about the sixth borough — the water,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins’ love of the water is infectious. But in order for future generations to continue to enjoy it, he knows seafarers like himself need to do more than attract new talent. They also need to keep the ocean as clean as possible. And so every time he takes the sailboat out to open water, whether he’s hanging out with friends or instructing students, he keeps an eye open for any plastic debris.

Grist / Paola Rosa-Aquino

Jenkins says cleaning up trash while you are out on the water is something many sailors have been doing for a long time. But thanks to a new ocean cleanup program by the American Sailing Association, one of the world’s biggest coalitions of sailing enthusiasts, trainers, and charter companies, the habit is becoming formalized.

The group started the crusade, called Operation Plastic Pollution Purge, last year. The campaign, which, according to the American Sailing Association’s website, has exposed around 111 million people to the concept of ocean conservation, urges boaters to reduce or eliminate the number of plastic items they bring on their vessels and to collect and properly dispose of any trash they see while they’re out on open water. It’s an especially important value to instill in new sailing enthusiasts, and something organization says it is uniquely situated to do given its 300 schools and 7,000 instructors.

“It has to start with one person, and what better group of people than sailors,” Lenny Shabes, CEO and founder of the American Sailing Association, told Grist.

Granted, not all types of boats are great for the environment. Big cruise ships, for example, run off of diesel fuel and can actually end up being more harmful to the planet per mile even compared to air travel. But sailboats are largely wind-powered, and when decked out with solar panels like the one currently transporting 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg to the U.N. Climate Summit in New York City, can provide a net-zero means of transportation even across long distances.

More than that, Shabes says sailing can benefit the planet because it can make people realize they have a special responsibility to the water. “It’s a very spiritual thing. There’s no propulsion involved, other than what the good earth gives you. The difference between living in New York City and going sailing in the Long Island Sound, which is one of the most beautiful places in the world to sail is immense. To see it become polluted because some yahoo doesn’t care and throws the plastic bottle overboard — it irks me.”

And between the planet’s warming waters and humanities’ growing trash problem, the oceans need all the love they can get. Scientists don’t know exactly how much plastic trash is in the ocean, but some estimates suggest that as much as 244,000 metric tons might bob on the surface. Another 8.5 million metric tons are though to settle on the ocean floor per year. The United Nations estimates that by the year 2050 there will be more plastic debris in our oceans than fish.

“It’s as if you took a New York City garbage truck and dumped it full of plastic into the ocean every minute of every day,” Jenkins said.

If that trash stays at sea, it could cluster up in trash hot spots, the most famous of which is a swirling mass of garbage twice the size of Texas. The patch is located somewhere between California and Hawaii called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. There, currents deposit waste like abandoned fishing gear, bottles, and tiny pieces of pulverized plastics.

Back at the City Island docks, Jenkins and I were just about ready to set sail on our trash-finding venture. As the Mary Lou pulled out from the Bronx and into the open water, it felt like an escape from city life. To the east lay the Sound, Connecticut to the north and Long Island to the south. We headed toward the Long Island Sound.

Jenkins surveyed a nautical chart as we headed south and the ship neared the Throgs Neck Bridge. It wasn’t long before we spotted our first piece of refuse — a bright yellow bag floating on the waves. Jenkins quickly redirected the Mary Lou, grabbing a handy net. As we cruised by, he dipped it into the water and lifted it up to reveal a soggy bag of Funyons. After about three hours of sailing, we’d amassed a modest bag’s worth of trash. Jenkins said that if we’d gone sailing on a Monday after people were in surrounding beaches over the weekend, he would have expected even more prices of plastic surrounding the ship.

Grist / Paola Rosa-Aquino

Of course, it will take more than a few sailing trips to solve the ocean’s plastic problem. That’s why many countries are either restricting or even wholesale banning single-use plastics. But Bonnie Monteleone, executive director of the Plastic Ocean Project, says these small-scale clean-ups can still do a lot of good. As part of a separate cleanup effort, she hired charter fishermen to pick up trash they see offshore. “Just that exposure of getting people to become aware of how much trash is out there — I call it “the magic eye,” Monteleone told Grist. “Once you do you can’t unsee it. I think any opportunity that will get people out on the water [for this kind of effort] will cast a wider net and get more people proactive at picking up what they see. “

And the stakes are high: The billions upon billions of items of plastic waste choking our oceans, lakes, and rivers and piling up on land is more than unsightly and harmful to plants and wildlife. According to Lauren Coiro, the American Sailing Association’s marine conservationist, plastic Pollution is a very real and growing threat to human health. “In terms of the health of marine life, it’s not good,” Coiro told Grist. “In terms of our own health, it’s not good.”

Indeed, the toxic chemicals leach out of plastic and can be found in the blood and tissue of nearly every one of us. Exposure to these substances is linked to cancers, birth defects, impaired immunity, endocrine disruption and a whole slew of other ailments. What’s worse, instead of breaking down, plastic breaks into smaller and smaller pieces called microplastics, making it even harder to clean up.

But on a macro level, ocean cleanups can still do their part to help rid the ocean of its plastic scourge. And who better to lead the way than people who are already on the waves? “Sailors are naturally a really easily motivated group of people,” Coiro says. “When we asked sailors to start talking about this and take leadership … a lot of sailors [were] happy to do it..”

At the end of our rendezvous on open water, Jenkins packed the sails away, a process that requires the utmost care to avoid twists, tears, and tangles. With the lines finally coiled and the sails covered, and Mary Lou was tucked in for the day — but perhaps not for long.

If weather conditions are favorable, Jenkins says he’ll go back out and do the same thing all over again tomorrow.

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This group is teaching new sailors how to tackle plastic pollution

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How the U.S. got addicted to plastics

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This story was originally published by Undark and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

In the closing months of World War II, Americans talked nonstop about how and when the war would end, and about how life was about to change. Germany would fall soon, people agreed on that. Opinions varied on how much longer the war in the Pacific would go on.

Amid the geopolitical turmoil, a small number of people and newspapers chattered about the dawn of another new age. A subtle shift was about to change the fabric of people’s lives: Cork was about to lose its dominance as a cornerstone of consumer manufacturing to a little-known synthetic substance called plastic.

In 1939, the future arrived at the World’s Fair in New York with the slogan: “The World of Tomorrow.” The fairground in Queens attracted 44 million people over two seasons, and two contenders laid claim to being the most modern industrial material: cork and plastic.

For decades, cork had been rising as the most flexible of materials; plastic was just an intriguing possibility. The manifold forms of cork products were featured everywhere, from an international Paris Exhibition to the fair in Queens, where the material was embedded in the Ford Motors roadway of the future.

Meanwhile, plastic made a promising debut, with visitors getting their first glimpse of nylon, Plexiglas, and Lucite. Souvenirs included colorful plastic (phenolic resin) pencil sharpeners, molded in the form of the fair’s emblematic, obelisk-shaped Trylon building. Visitors also picked up celluloid badges and pen knives, and a Remington electric razor made of Bakelite, along with plastic ashtrays, pens, and coasters.

In the months after the fair, as U.S. entry into the war became inevitable, the government grew concerned by American dependence on cork, which was obtained entirely from forests in Europe. The United States imported nearly half of the world’s production.

People in their 50s today remember when a bottle cap included a cork sliver insert to seal it. But in 1940, cork was in far more than bottle caps. It was the go-to industrial sealant used in car windshield glazing, insulation, refrigerated containers, engine gaskets, and airplanes. In defense, cork was crucial to tanks, trucks, bomber planes, and weapon systems. As the vulnerability for the supply of this all-purpose item became clear with the Nazi blockade of the Atlantic, the government put cork under “allotment,” or restricted use prioritized for defense. Information about cork supplies became subject to censorship.

In October 1941, the Commerce Department released a hefty report detailing the situation, titled: “Cork Goes to War.” Besides outlining the growing industrial use of cork, the report highlighted Hitler’s efforts to scoop up Europe’s cork harvests and the need for a systemic American response.

Part of that response was an intense research and development machine that ramped up the nascent synthetic industry to fill gaps in defense pipelines. Some were synthetics first developed by America’s enemies:Chemists at Armstrong Cork, an industry leader, crafted new products using materials research from Germany. Many synthetics were developed during the mad scramble to replace organic items that the blockade made expensive. To pay for the research and offset rising materials costs, Armstrong trimmed employees’ use of items like carbon paper and paper clips; the company’s accountants noted 95,000 clips used per month in 1944, a 40 percent decline since the war’s start.

In 1944, a book titled Plastic Horizons, by B.H. Weil and Victor Anhorn, documented the promise of plastic. A chapter titled “Plastics in a World at War” opens with a paean to the blood toll of war. But then the authors trace how war bends science to its needs for new both deadly and life-saving items: Physicists turn to aircraft detection, chemists to explosives. “Nylon for stockings has become nylon for parachutes. Rubber for tires has almost vanished, and desperate measures are required to replace it with man-made elastics.” That section concludes, “Plastics have indeed gone to war.”

In one dramatic example, the authors describe how plastics came to neutralize Germany’s secret weapon: a magnetic mine designed to be laid on the ocean floor and detonated by the magnetic field surrounding any vessel that passed over it. To counteract that, Allied scientists created plastic-coated electric cables that wrapped around the ships’ hulls and “degaussed” them, rendering the mines ineffective. Thanks, polyvinyl chloride!

The book got a glowing review in the New York Times, which noted that America was experiencing a chemical revolution.

Early plastics, as the book explained, covered a wide range of natural or semi-synthetics like celluloid and synthetic resins that could be molded with heat and pressure.

After the war, chronic shortages of common materials like rubber, cork, linseed oil, and paints forced chemists to scramble for substitutes, further speeding the embrace of plastics. Profitable bottling innovations included the LDPE squeeze bottle introduced by Monsanto in 1945, which paved the way for plastic bottles for soaps and shampoos, and the “Crowntainer,” a seamless metal cone-topped beer can.

There was also a shortage of tinplate for metal caps. Industry was quickly adapting to finding substitutes. Giles Cooke, the in-house chemist at one manufacturing leader, Crown Cork & Seal, was dabbling in research on synthetic resins for container sealants through the 1940s. In beverage bottling, cork’s quality remained unmatched. You could taste the difference between a cork-sealed bottle and one sealed with plastic. Recognizing that it would takes decades to replace cork as a sealant, Cooke and his colleagues hedged their bets with patents on both silicone film container liners and rubber hydrochloride.

In the end, Plastic Horizons undersold its subject. Its closing chapter hardly seems to anticipate the ubiquity of plastics we see today, along with its formidable waste problem. “In the future, plastics will supplement rather than supplant such traditional structural materials as metals, wood, and glass,” the authors wrote.

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“There may be no Plastics Age, but that should discourage no one; applications will multiply with the years,” they continued. “Plastics are indeed versatile materials, and industry, with the help of science, will continue to add to their number and to improve their properties. Justifiable optimism is the order of the day, and the return of peace will enable the plastics industry to fulfill its promise of things to come.”

By 1946, the transition to plastics had reached a new threshold. That year, New York hosted a National Plastics Exposition, where for the first time, a range of strong, new materials and consumer products headed for American homes were on display. One observer noted, “the public are certainly steamed up on plastics.”

The World of Tomorrow indeed.

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How the U.S. got addicted to plastics

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Reduce Your Plastic Footprint

On World Environment day this past June 5, the United Nations (UN) called for the end of single-use plastic. Using the #beatplasticpollution hashtag, there were all kinds of conversations on Twitter about how to minimize your plastic use.

Plastic takes significant amounts of energy to create. It doesn?t decompose, which makes it a huge environmental issue, especially for our oceans. It is all too common for birds and other animals like sea turtles to die from eating plastic. And because plastic never entirely breaks down, lots of that plastic stays in the food chain; some of it even ends up in the food we eat.

I want to share some of the top tips from the UN and the Nature Conservancy of Canada for trying to reduce your plastic footprint.

1. Do a plastic audit

This is also a fun thing to do in your workplace. After discovering how much plastic your workplace uses, set goals as a team and maybe even have prizes for successfully reaching your goal.What does that mean? It means collecting all of your plastic use for a set period of time. I suggest at least two weeks so you get a shopping trip or two in during that time. Then count all of the plastic that you have amassed so you can know how big your plastic footprint is. One idea is to gather all of the plastic so that you can have a visual for how much plastic you use. You can then set a goal to cut back and consume less of it. It is amazing how many bags, containers and other plastic objects you only use once. Set a goal that is realistic but meaningful.

2. Ditch the single-use plastic water bottle

If you haven?t already invested in a good reusable water bottle, it is the easiest way to cut your plastic consumption. By drinking out of a reusable water bottle you are not only helping to keep plastic out of the landfill and ocean, you are also saving money in the long run.

Reusable water bottles are in style right now too. They come in all shapes and sizes, but it seems like bright colors and patterns are very stylish at the moment. Get with the trend and get a reusable water bottle.

The next time you go for a hike, take a garbage bag and fill it with any trash that you find along the trail. We recommend taking plastic gloves or a trash grabbing stick. You only have to go once or twice to see a noticeable difference in your local trail, especially in the city.

3. Do a plastic cleanup

My parents do this every spring at their favorite park. One walk through the park with a garbage bag in May means the walk will be more beautiful for the rest of the summer.

Invite some friends and have a competition to see who can pick up the most garbage. You would be surprised how much fun this can be!

4. Avoid pre-made food when possible

Many groceries stores now stock ready-to-eat meals that almost always come in plastic containers. Soups, salads, sushi or sandwiches are often over-packaged in plastic. We are all busy people who sometimes want a quick meal, but you can significantly reduce your plastic use by buying fresh fruits and veggies that aren?t over packaged in plastic. Ask for them wrapped in paper if you can.

5. #Banthebag

Start saying “no” to plastic grocery bags, and bring your own reusable?cloth bags. Plastic bags are almost indestructible in nature and are easily carried by the wind. It is no wonder our oceans are becoming clogged with them. Bringing a reusable shopping bag helps lessen the number of bags ending up in nature.

It has become a global movement to avoid single use plastic bags at grocery stores. Many cities, like Montreal, have gone so far as to ban them altogether. The hashtag #banthebag has become the unofficial slogan of refusing to use single-use plastic bags.

Anything beats single-use plastic bags, but if you really want to be an eco-friendly shopper, use the multi-use polyurethane bags that are sold at most grocery stores. These bags take less energy to create than standard canvas bags, which makes them more carbon friendly.


Hopefully these helpful tips will help you try to do your part. Together we can beat plastic pollution.

This post was written by Logan Salm and originally appeared on the Nature Conservancy of Canada?s blog, Land Lines. The Conservation Internship Program is funded in part by the Government of Canada?s Summer Work Experience program.

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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Reduce Your Plastic Footprint

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WeWork kicks meat to the curb in the name of climate change

WeWork announced a company-wide meat ban on Thursday: Poultry, pork, and red meat are officially no longer on the menu at WeWork events. And employees can’t charge meals that contain meat to the company card, either. That’s because the coworking Goliath seems to be moderately concerned that the human race is hurtling toward ecological collapse.

Like it or not, eliminating meat and dairy from your diet is probably the No. 1 thing you can do for the planet. Cutting out plastic straws? Sea turtles the world ’round appreciate it, but in terms of addressing climate change on a planetary scale, it doesn’t cut the mustard. That’s why the folks here at Grist dot org didn’t throw a party when Starbucks made plans to ditch straws and replace them with … plastic sippy cup lids. Perhaps it should take some inspiration from WeWork?

The company’s cofounder dropped the meat ban announcement on his employees in a memo. WeWork, valued at $20 billion, serves 253,000 members across the globe, and none of them will be nibbling on pigs-in-a-blanket on company premises anymore — unless they bring them from home, I guess.

The new meat ban will do the following by 2023, according to the company’s estimates:

Save 16.6 billion gallons of water
Prevent 445.1 million pounds of CO2 from entering the atmosphere
Spare the lives of more than 15,000,000 animals

While WeWork’s meat-free commitment is no doubt the most environmentally impactful step it’s taking, the company is also working to reduce its energy consumption by installing LED lights, automatic light switches, and a “global energy consumption dashboard,” something it hopes will help employees keep track of energy usage. It’s also working to reduce construction waste, increase the density of its real estate, and minimize additional construction. The company says its spaces are already 2.5 times more efficient than a typical office.

That’s pretty impressive! And to those of you who say you can’t give up meat, I ask you: Would you rather drink from a plastic sippy cup like a giant baby, or forgo the chicken skewers at your next company picnic like a well-adjusted grownup? The choice is yours. Unless you’re at WeWork, because your bosses already decided for you.

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WeWork kicks meat to the curb in the name of climate change

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5 Reasons Why You Need to Give Up Plastic this Earth Day

With Earth Day on all of our minds, it?s a good time to start taking some tangible, quantifiable steps to reducing our environmental impact. Driving more eco-friendly cars, investing in solar power and shopping local are all fashionable (and of course, great steps!), but our favorite Earth Day resolution?this year is reducing your plastic consumption.

When you think about it, plastic is pretty much everywhere these days, from shipping materials to health food products. Here are five reasons you should give up (or at least greatly reduce) your plastic consumption:

It?s Accumulating in the Ocean

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch has been common knowledge among environmentalists for years, but recently, we collectively learned that this patch of plastic is even worse than we?d feared. The ?patch? is now estimated to be 4 to 16 times larger than originally thought, according to NPR.

In addition to recognizable items like water bottles, fishing supplies, plastic bags and buoys, the garbage patch is cluttered with tiny, nearly invisible plastic particles called microplastics, which are essentially the remnants of trash that?s already been broken down. Plastic is not a material that quickly and easily breaks down, so its memory remains in the ecosystem long after its usually short-lived human use has expired.

Related: What Happens to a Plastic Bag After You Throw It Away

It?s Killing Wildlife

Speaking of the garbage patch, plastic that collects in forests and waterways is slowly killing countless animals. Turtles and birds have long been known to get trapped in plastic bags, soda rings and other plastic items, but that?s only the beginning. According to National Geographic, seabirds around the world are regularly consuming plastic ? and it?s slowly killing them.

It?s Responsible for a Huge Number of Carbon Emissions

About 6 percent of global oil consumption can be attributed to plastic use, according to Time for Change. And as we all know by now, oil production comes at a major price to the environment. Time for Change also points out that the production of plastic bags and bottles generates 6 kg CO2 per kg of plastic.

It Could Be Impacting Your Health

Most scientists agree that too much exposure to plastics can cause major health issues. The question is usually ?how much is too much??, but when you consider the risks, you may decide that you want to avoid plastic at all costs.

Plastics contain chemicals that mimic estrogen in the body, an activity called ?estrogenic activity.? The presence of synthetic estrogens has been linked to a number of different health concerns, including developmental and hormonal issues as well as many cancers.

It Could Impact the Health of Your Children and Grandchildren

Finally, those synthetic chemicals can wind up in the bodies of future generations. A huge study commissioned by the Environmental Working Group and Commonweal found an average of 200 industrial chemicals, a number of which are transferred from plastics, in the umbilical cord blood of newborns. If that isn?t enough to scare you away from plastics, I don?t know what is!

Related Articles:

3 Ways a Zero Waste Lifestyle Can Improve Your Health
Finally Some Good News on Plastic Bags in Our Oceans
9 Ways to Cut Out Plastic That Will Help the Environment

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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5 Reasons Why You Need to Give Up Plastic this Earth Day

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7 Sneaky Plastic Items to Stop Using

This Earth Day, reducing our plastic consumption is a huge step we can take toward making the planet a better place?and this huge step is actually comprised of several itty, bitty steps! Addressing this part of our lives doesn?t mean we have to immediately and completely shun plastic in all its forms (although, if you?d like to go cold turkey, have at it!).

By being more aware of the everyday situations wherein plastic can sneak into our lives, we can opt to be better prepared and to ultimately reduce how much plastic creation we are supporting.

1. Produce bags

These have an easy way of sneaking their way into our lives while grocery shopping. Even if we commit to not using them for firm fruits and veggies, it is hard to resist a plastic casing for delicate herbs and greens. However, arming ourselves with reusable (and washable) cotton or mesh bags for this purpose is a great step toward never having to use those wasteful plastic bags again.

2. Straws

The sneakiest! They show up in our restaurant and bar drinks without having to ask. Yet, remembering to ask for ?no straw, please? can be quickly learned. If you still like the feel of sipping through a straw, several glass and stainless steel versions exist (some with their own cloth bags for portability).

3. Items that could be purchased in bulk

Hungry for pistachios? Need some pine nuts for a new recipe? Most of these items (and more) can be found in bulk at health food stores and, more often nowadays, more mainstream grocers, as well. Bringing a cloth or mesh bag for nuts and grains (and then transferring to glassware at home) and even glassware for items like nut butters, maple syrup and olive oil (have an associate weigh your container first) are great Earth-friendly ways to reduce plastic waste and the demand for more plastic creation.

4. Bottles of water

It cannot be said enough: always have a water bottle with you! This will reduce temptation to buy water bottles or accept offers for one (?No thank you, I have my water bottle?).

5. Snack bags

Instead of storing snacks (or fridge leftovers) in little plastic bags that will probably be thrown away after one use, invest in some quality reusable packaging: cloth wraps, glassware, stainless steel boxes, etc.

6. Plastic tampon applicators

The only item on this list I?m sure is only used once and definitely thrown away, instead of recycled. Instead of relying on these, consider investing in a menstrual cup that can be used for years – less waste, less hassle and less moments of panic when you realize you don?t have any tampons on hand. If that doesn?t float your boat, several companies are now creating panties that absorb menstrual blood so tampons needn?t enter the equation.

7. Gifts from others

Surprises are wonderful, as are gifts from loved ones. Yet, those who may not be aware of our mission to make the world a plastic-free place may provide gifts chock full of the stuff. As meaningful dates approach, you can gently let your loved ones know that you would greatly appreciate spending time together to make new memories and, oh, by the way, you?re working on reducing your plastic consumption so there?s no need to gift anything with plastic ingredients.

Related Stories:

Here’s What Happens to a Plastic Bag After You Throw It Away
Check the Label for These Sneaky Non-Vegan Ingredients
10 Ways to Get Plastic Out of Your Kitchen

Photo credit: Thinkstock

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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7 Sneaky Plastic Items to Stop Using

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8.3 Billion Reasons to Break Free From Plastic

Ever since seeing the now famous YouTube clip of a sea turtle with a straw stuck in its nose, I?ve made an effort to avoid plastic straws. When I go grocery shopping I take my own bags and I also make a point of eschewing the single-use bags in the fresh produce section (much to the consternation of the person weighing my fruit and vegetables).

I try to buy things packaged in glass, I drink filtered tap water and wear flip-flops made from recycled rubber. There are plenty of zero-waste activists out there who make my efforts seem positively puny, but at least I?m doing something, right?

It?s better than doing nothing, sure, but when you consider that humans have created 8.3 billion metric tons of plastics since large-scale production of the synthetic materials began in the early 1950s, and most of it now resides in landfills or the natural environment, you realize its time to up your game.

I mean, it?s a little embarrassing to learn that Rwanda has banned plastic bags in their entirety and the campaign to eliminate plastic straws was started by a nine-year-old, when you?re still buying the occasional single-use plastic item just because it?s easier.

As if that wasn?t enough of a wakeup call, I then found out about Break Free From Plastic, a global movement on a mission to stop plastic pollution for good. With The Story of Stuff Project as one of their anchor organizations, members on almost every continent and the likes of Greenpeace joining forces with them, Break Free is fast becoming a force to be reckoned with.

All the Plastic Ever Made: Breaking Study Tallies 8.3 Billion Metric Tons

There?s literally a ton of plastic garbage for every person on earth. Think about that for a moment and then ruminate on this: of the 8.3 billion tons of plastic produced since the 1950s, over half of it was made between 2004 and now.

We all know that plastic is a problem, but whether it?s the desire for convenience, the fact that we?re lazy or that the problem just seems overwhelmingly large, we?re all acting as if nothing?s wrong. That has to change.

I caught up with Shilpi Chhotray, Senior Communications Officer at Break Free From Plastic to find out how. Her suggestions for effecting change at both a domestic and civic level are more than doable. Literally, we have no excuse not to implement them.

Shilpi isn?t just paying lip service to the movement either. She?s implemented these practices at her own company?Sumudra Skin + Sea?as well. She?started the?skincare line with an ?ocean-first? business model (Sumudra means ‘ocean’ in Sanskrit)?that uses?reusable glass containers?instead of plastic and edible-grade kelp as an ingredient source.

Photo Credit: Sumadra Skin + Sea

How did you come to be involved in the Break Free From Plastic movement?

I’ve been involved in ocean advocacy for a decade and became immersed in plastic waste issues a few years ago through my work in stakeholder engagement with an ocean plastic lens. I took a deep dive, if you will, on the major players (the companies creating it and the organizations fighting against it) and the key research around the issue during this time. In July 2017, I was recruited to take the role as a Senior Communications Officer to amplify the work of the organizations behind the movement.

We?re each drawn to the causes we support for different reasons. What prompted you to focus your efforts on ocean conservation?

It was a study abroad trip to Cairns, Australia, home to the Great Barrier Reef, when I was a college undergrad at Virginia Tech University. Being exposed to the human impacts on the environment, specifically the ocean, sparked a lifelong desire to protect our blue planet. I took my interest a step further and focused my efforts in graduate school on marine protected areas, or creating underwater national parks to safeguard earth’s most precious resources. After being introduced to the rocky intertidal ecosystem (and the magical world of seaweeds), I was inspired to study marine organisms through underwater exploration via scuba (and a human-powered submersible in a later position!).

The stats released in the latest study (8.3 billion tons of plastic produced since 1950) are overwhelming to say the very least. Is it really possible to turn the tide on plastic pollution?

And to add to that, only 9 percent has been recycled since, which sparks two major considerations not being discussed enough: first, the global north (US + Europe) export copious amounts of waste overseas and second, recycling is clearly not a viable solution to the plastic waste crisis.

It’s absolutely possible to turn the tide on plastic pollution and that’s what Break Free From Plastic is all about. By emphasizing source reduction and investing in zero waste solutions at the city-level, we can greatly combat plastic waste ending up in our ocean, roads and waterways.

For instance, one of our member organizations in the Philippines, Mother Earth Foundation, helps cities develop programs to manage their waste. In the city of San Fernando 75 percent of waste gets composted or recycled and they aim to hit 93 percent. Mother Earth’s President, Froilan Grate says, “If you truly want to stop ocean pollution, it starts on land, which means rethinking how we manage our waste.”

What do you say to the person on the street who thinks the problem is too big to fix?

We created the problem in the first place so we can also fix it. We HAVE to fix it because we’ve already reached the tipping point of acceptable levels of plastic pollution. Microplastics (broken down from larger pieces of plastic) are literally everywhere, from fish to seabirds to our sources of drinking water, and even sea salt and beer.

Using a reusable bag and skipping the straw is good place to start, but it’s a terrible place to stop. My colleagues at SOSP for instance, encourage a culture of ?leveling up? by taking these practices to your communities ?your office, your child’s school, after school clubs and even your favorite caf?, to effect widespread change.

Where you go next is to engage at the civic level. Talk to the companies! If you don’t like the business practices, tag them on Facebook, write to them about your concerns. You can also write to city government officials to pass regulations…these are all important steps to effect systems change.

I love this quote from our Campaigns Director, Stiv Wilson: “Our consumer muscles have gotten really strong and our citizen muscles have gotten really weak. Not everyone is an activist, figure out where you can contribute and plug in.”

How can we as individuals make a difference? Can you offer some suggestions (small and big) of changes we can make in our daily lives?

It’s important to make smart purchasing decisions and avoid brands emphasizing a throw away lifestyle (single-use plastics). Break Free From Plastic member organizations in the Philippines recently conducted an 8-day coastal cleanup and brand audit in Freedom Island, a critical area for migratory birds, to identify the most polluting brands. Turns out, six international brands are responsible for roughly 54 percent of plastic packaging pollution found there.

Among them are corporate behemoths like Nestl?, Unilever?and Proctor & Gamble ?parent companies of the brands sitting in your kitchen and bathroom right now. Break Free From Plastic is encouraging anyone doing coastal cleanup activities to combine it with a brand audit, because coastal cleanup is simply not enough. For more information visit Plastic Polluters.org.

There are greener alternatives that are better for us and the planet. Personally, I’ve transitioned to shopping for groceries in bulk, buying less, and a lot of DIY. Even slowing down and dining in can help reduce single-use plastic waste, and it’s more fun too!

What is the one thing you?d really like people to understand about the negative impact of plastic that we might not already know?

Plastic pollution is not just an ocean issue, it’s a social justice issue impacting low income people of color who are often on the front-lines of the crisis fighting incineration (or burning of plastic waste) for the safety of their communities. Many of these communities are also in Asia and being blamed for the waste they didn’t create, the waste coming from the developed world.

At Break Free From Plastic we are shining a spotlight on innovative and scalable solutions created by our Asian colleagues, focusing on zero-waste cities and making sure the responsibility falls on the corporations accountable.

Was being a socially conscious brand on the cards from day one for Samudra Skin + Sea or did the brand?s ethos evolve over time?

Absolutely ?it’s a social venture. We have an ?ocean-first? business model, which means protection for the ocean is the foundation for all aspects of our methods and mission. For instance, we hand harvest the wild seaweed used in our products to ensure the regenerative properties of the plant continue to thrive for generations to come.

We have a zero-waste packaging model which means all of our products are encased in reusable glass jars with bamboo lids and/or compostable boxes certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. Our soap bar in particular, created for hair and body, eliminates the need for bottled shampoos and conditioners. We strongly advocate a ?less is more? mentality and repurposing and reusing when possible.

Our mission includes partnering on marine conservation campaigns that benefit people and marine life. The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito and 5 Gyres (who is also a Break Free From Plastic movement member) are two fantastic organizations we work with to communicate efforts around ocean stewardship. Personal wellness and ecological integrity need to go hand-in-hand, and Samudra is bridging that gap.

With so many people doing what they can to effect positive change in the world, it?s hard to just sit back and pretend that plastic is someone else?s problem. It?s everyone?s problem. In my own life, I?m definitely going to try harder to reduce the amount of waste I generate. What about you? How will you #breakfreefromplastic?

Related Stories:

5 Human Habits Harmful to Ocean Health

How to Tell if Your Sunscreen is Damaging Coral Reefs
22 Freaky Facts About Plastic Pollution

Photo Credit: Thinkstock

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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8.3 Billion Reasons to Break Free From Plastic

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10 Ways to Get Plastic Out of Your Kitchen

Plastics seem to invade every aspect of our lives, and the kitchen is no exception. From cooking to storage to packing food for on the go, there are places that we can ditch the plastic in favor of safer, more Earth-friendly materials. Take some time to inventory the plastic in your kitchen and see if your kitchen can go plastic-free. It’s easier than you think!

Plastic is no good for the planet, and it’s no good for people, either. Plastic pollution is a serious environmental problem. It pollutes our waterways, causing ocean dead zones and killing countless numbers of aquatic life. You don’t want plastic coming in contact with your food, either, especially hot or acidic foods. Plastic cooking utensils and food storage containers can leach toxins into the food that it touches. No, thank you!

10 Ways to Get Plastic Out of Your Kitchen

Luckily, there are lots of simple ways to get plastic out of your cooking processes. One word of caution: if you’re getting rid of plastic that you already have, like ladels or tupperware, see if you can come up with crafty or creative ways to reuse them elsewhere, rather than sending them to the landfill. That plastic still exists, even if it’s not in your home!

Ready to ditch the plastic in your kitchen? Here are 10 tips to get you going!

1. Store your food in glass or metal. Instead of plastic Tupperware containers, chose metal or glass food storage. Glass Mason jars are great for storing bulk items like beans, grains and nuts. You can also check retailers like The Container Store. I’ve seen some great glass and metal food storage options there.

2. No more baggies! When you’re packing lunch, choose reusable glass or metal containers instead of plastic baggies or plastic Tupperware containers.

3. Choose reusable. You don’t need plastic forks and spoons in your lunchbox! Grab metal utensils from your own utensil drawer instead. If you want something that’s just for lunch, check out these cute, reusable wooden utensils!

4. Get rid of plastic cooking utensils. Ditch the plastic tools like spatulas and serving spoons in favor of metal ones.

5. Skip the processed food and produce in plastic bags. Processed food almost always means disposable plastic packaging, so choose whole foods wherever you can. When you’re hitting the produce section, don’t buy fruits and veggies in plastic wrap or those plastic mesh bags.

6. Forget bottled water. Chances are you already don’t buy bottled water, but just in case there are any hold outs out there, this is a no-brainer. Bottled water is expensive and the plastic bottles are unhealthy. Choose filtered tap water in a reusable glass or BPA free metal bottle instead.

7. Bring your own bag to the grocery store. You probably also already have reusable grocery bags, but what about when you’re in the bulk or produce aisle? Skip the single-use plastic bags in favor of reusable produce bags instead.

8. Buy dishwasher detergent that comes in a cardboard box. Dishwasher detergent often comes in a plastic container. Skip the plastic and opt for the powdered stuff in a cardboard box. Even better? Make your own dishwasher detergent!

9. Make your own dish soap. No need to buy dish soap in a plastic bottle, either. You can make your own dish soap at home! I know, the Dr. Bronner’s in this recipe comes in a plastic bottle, but many co-ops offer bulk refills of Dr. Bronner’s, so at least you only have to buy the one bottle. If anyone has suggestions for getting around this one, I’d love to hear them!

10. Skip the nonstick. Did you know that the nonstick coating on pots and pans is actually plastic? Instead of nonstick, choose cast iron or stainless steel so you can cook plastic free!

How do you keep the plastic out of your kitchen?

Cast Iron 101: Cooking, Cleaning and Seasoning
13 Natural Ingredients to Clean Almost Anything
Your Kitchen Sponge is Gross. Here’s How to Change That.

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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10 Ways to Get Plastic Out of Your Kitchen

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6 Ways to Make Your Fridge Plastic Free

In 2010,Scientific Americanconcluded The amount of plastic manufactured in the first 10 years of this century will approach the total produced in the entire last century. The data came from areportthat pointed out the many dangers this material poses to the planet and humans alike.

By cutting down and eventually eliminating the use of throw-away plastics from our food routines, we can help reduce these dangers. It will also help reduce our dependence on pre-packaged, processed foods, and make us more in tune with what we have in our refrigerators. That way, we can cut down on wasted food, which is a huge problem in a country where its estimated that as much as40 percent of the food supply is thrown away.

America has fallen in love with our refrigerators. Weve become so dependent on them that we put everything in there, and this leads to over-crowding, resulting in a less efficient refrigerator and food waste. (If you cant see it, youll forget to eat it.) Modern refrigerators are well-engineered and packed with features that not only keep your food fresh, but prolong its life without the need for excess packaging. These include temperature-controlled doors, airtight crispers and herb storage systems. To get the most out of these fridges, its important to use the features correctly.

Food waste and over-dependence on plastic go hand-in-hand, and to help cut down on both you need to shop thoughtfully, store correctly and understand the needs of the food you eat. Here are six simple steps to take to help achieve a zero-waste and plastic free fridge.

Read more about the dangers of plastic

1. Dont keep produce in plastic bags

Those humidity-controlled drawers in your fridge, known as crispers, work very well when youuse them properly. As a bonus, they mean you dont need to store your produce in plastic bags to keep it fresh. Plastic can actually be the enemy of freshness in these finely-tuned climate-controlled areas of our fridges, as encasing certain produce in plastic encourages the production of ethylene gas that will cause food to spoil more quickly. Consider taking reusable produce bags with you to put your produce in when you shop. You can evenmake your own.

2. Use cloth instead of plastic wrap

Wrap leafy greens and other produce that needs to be contained while in the crisper in a clean kitchen towel or muslin cloth, lightly dampened for produce that needs to be kept moist. You can also buy drawstring muslinproduce bagsfor convenience.

3. Know what should and shouldnt be in the crisper

Some veggies dont like the crisper, unless you have an airtight one. Use a glass container with a lid for carrots, zucchini and cucumbers, which can suffer from limpness in a regular crisper. Celery and other leafy greens do best standing upright in a glass of water. Use your fridges adjustable shelving to create a space for storing your produce in this way when you can. Not only does it preserve it longer, but having it front and center in the fridge means youre more likely to reach for it when you need a snack.Heresa handy guide that goes through the best ways to store all fruits and vegetables, courtesy of the Ecology Center in Berkley, CA.

4. Dont store everything in the fridge

A crowded fridge results in food getting overlooked and eventually spoiling. Below are some other foods you dont need to store in the fridge.

Bread, butter and most root vegetables:Store these in cool, dark places, such as the bottom of a pantry. Bread does best wrapped in a cloth bag and stored on the counter in a bread bin. If you arent going to use it right away, store it in the freezer, not the fridge. Butter keeps well on the counter too when stored in a ceramic butter keeper.
Firm fruit:Fruit stores best in a bowl on the counter. Plus, because its visible and accessible, youre more likely to eat it.
Leafy veg:Vegetables like chard and beet leaves do well in a glass jar with a bit of water out on the counter. Plus, they look nice! The same applies to herbs such as parsley and basil.

5. Use glass containers

Store leftover and pre-prepared or chopped food in glass containers, such as those made by Pyrex. Stainless steel is an option, but glass means you can see whats in it, meaning youre more likely to eat it and its less likely to be wasted. Plus, you can put a glass container right into the oven ormicrowave. You can also just put another plate over the top of a half-eaten meal and put it straight in the fridge, pretty much eliminating the need for plastic wrap in your home. Alternatively, you can use reusable silicon lids that mold themselves to a multitude of containers.

6. Dont forget the freezer

Not just for TV dinners packed in too much plastic, the freezer is your best friend when it comes to prolonging the life of fresh foods, including produce, bread or cooked grains such as pasta and rice. Dont even think about stocking up on gallon freezer bags! Glass containers are excellent in the freezer. Just be sure to choose thick glass, such as Pyrex or Mason jars, and allow a little extra room in the container for food to expand, which it will do when frozen. (You dont want to end up with broken glass in your freezer!)

Read about 5 places plastic is hiding in your home

Start collecting glass jars, the type pasta sauce and jelly come in, and use them for leftovers or chopped-up produce. Just fill them up and pop them in the freezer until youre ready to use them, when they can go straight in themicrowaveto defrost. If youre not convinced about glass, reusable heavy-duty plastic containers, such as those made by Rubbermaid and Tupperware, will last a long time and generally avoid staining and cracking that occur in more flimsy plastic containers.

Next time youre shopping at the grocery store, keep these concepts in mind. Steer clear of food in plastic containers. Instead, look for food in glass jars and cloth bags that you can reuse. Take reusable bags to the store, not only for the checkout counter, but also for the produce department, where you should avoid pre-packed produce. Also, dont walk past the bulk item section. Buying goods in bulk not only saves money, but significantly reduces packaging waste, especially if you bring along reusable cloth bags.

Written by Jennifer Tuohy. Reposted with permission fromNaturally Savvy.

Photo Credit: Sarnil Prasad/Flickr

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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6 Ways to Make Your Fridge Plastic Free

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