With the problem of plastic pollution in our environment, there is more that we as a population need to do individually to cause change. The health of marine life not only protects biodiversity, but also directly affects what we eat through biomagnification. Recovery of plastics and/or recycling has not been sufficient as the abundance of plastics increases each day. Almost everything we use on a daily basis contributes to the plastic that will never fully degrade including single-use plastics like plastic utensils, straws, and bottles. Plastic in the ocean is a major cause of health issues, based on the chemicals that seep into our water and enter our foods; and to reduce our plastic footprint, it would require major reform from all over the world.

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With the problem of plastic pollution in our environment, there is more that we as a population need to do individually to cause change. The health of marine life not only protects biodiversity, but also directly affects what we eat through biomagnification. Recovery of plastics and/or recycling has not been sufficient as the abundance of plastics increases each day. Almost everything we use on a daily basis contributes to the plastic that will never be destroyed including single-use plastics like plastic utensils, straws, and bottles. Plastic in the ocean is a major cause of health issues, based on the chemicals that seep into our water and enter our foods; and to reduce our plastic footprint, it would require major reform from all over the world.

However, there are things that can be done to help these environmental issues on an individual level. The power of individual action is sometimes questioned by people, even some that claim to be part of sustainability movements, because many feel like their good deed would just be a drop in the ocean.  Unsustainable practices will not end without individual action leading to combined efforts from innovators that can make even bigger change happen.  In this way, individual action could snowball into innovation to fix the problem through an engineer, that will spark the interest of businesses economically and give politicians a reason to change governance.

1.At the grocery store:

  • DITCH THE PLASTIC BAGS: An obvious way to contribute individually is to only use reusable shopping bags.
  • REDUCE PLASTIC IN YOUR CART: Search for brands and products that are packaged with the least amount of plastic possible. Buying in bulk also helps in this situation, allowing you to take a larger quantity of the foods home to reduce the packaging waste made by smaller quantities of food.

2. Single-use plastic alternatives:

  • Single-use Everyday Items
    • BUY A REUSABLE WATER BOTTLE: This is something major you can do to help curb our use of plastics. By buying a washable water bottle that can be used as many times as you need, you will be helping yourself by drinking more water throughout the day and reducing your exposure to harmful chemicals that seep into your single-use plastic water bottles.
    • THIS IS THE LAST STRAW: Straws make up a lot of the plastic waste in our oceans, and think of how much plastic that could add up to if everyone in your household used a new straw for every drink they bought? Now multiply this to your whole city. Then your whole state. All of these straws add up, quickly! REFUSE PLASTIC STRAWS, either don’t use them, or bring your own washable and reusable straw!
    • TUPPERWARE: If you need to take things on-the-go, tupperware is the way to go. Any reusable container you can get is better than using a container once and throwing it away to never degrade. When you’re out, it may be hard to find places that don’t serve their foods in plastic. Being conscious of it is the first step. Plan ahead to bring your own option or ask if they have other, more sustainable options. This will make them more conscious of the problem and maybe they will move toward paper options.

This is a big step to reduce your use of plastics. Single use and ‘disposable’ plastics are some of the biggest culprits in the fight against plastic pollution in the oceans, like plastic utensils, straws, and cups.  There are so many more sustainable, reusable options to these single use plastics that are in our lives every day.

As many as 20 billion plastic bottles are thrown away every year[i] and this can be reduced greatly by the use of reusable water bottles.  On a local level, individuals can support movements to ban plastic bag use like many states have done. Requiring payment for plastic bags at the cashier can be more effective than banning single use plastic bags because of consumer mentality. A better alternative to plastic bags are reusable produce bags that can be supported to further this movement. The microplastics formed by the degradation of plastic bags have increased human exposure to chemicals that are detrimental to our health, such as BPA.

Plastic bottle garden border.[iii]

These steps can help the sustainability movement further.  Even though one person might not seem to make a difference in situations like this, if more people started working toward this goal, it would become part of the culture.  At Muhlenberg College, the use of plastic bottles has reduced by encouraging the use of reusable bottles and placing filtered refilling stations all over campus.  Now walking around campus, it is a rarity to see someone with a disposable water bottle and it has become part of everyone’s daily lives. If this expanded further than just a college campus, becoming the norm in cities, states, and then the country; it could have a huge impact on the plastic pollution in the oceans.  Although it may not seem like a big step at the moment, the long-term effects may be even greater than what you would expect.

Everyone can start or join initiatives to solve the problem of plastic pollution. There are plenty of examples of this, including Surfers Against Sewage. This is an example of a great way to spread the word in today’s age through the use of social media. Although there is no way to know that each step you take as individual action makes a difference, encouraging it in your life and in others will end up having a great impact on the problem of plastic in the ocean.

(https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/why-carryout-bag-fees-are-better-than-plastic-bag-bans_us_588187ace4b08f5134b61f79)

 Why Carryout Bag Fees Are More Effective Than Plastic Bag Bans

To learn more about the plastic bag bans in specific states and learn how to take individual action, go to: Bag the Ban

States with active plastic bag legislation. (http://www.ncsl.org/research/environment-and-natural-resources/plastic-bag-legislation.aspx )

For more information on plastic bag legislation in the US, go to: National Conference of State Legislature

Some places to get more information about how you can help individually:

https://www.oceanicsociety.org/blog/1720/7-ways-to-reduce-ocean-plastic-pollution-today

https://www.reusethisbag.com/

http://www.greeneducationfoundation.org/nationalgreenweeksub/waste-reduction-tips/tips-to-use-less-plastic.html

https://4ocean.com/blogs/blog/15-ways-to-reduce-your-plastic-use-4ocean

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[i] https://www.nrdc.org/stories/10-ways-reduce-plastic-pollution

[ii] https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwj1puyP_7TgAhVBPN8KHQsUA1AQjxx6BAgBEAI&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.rd.com%2Fhealth%2Fwellness%2Ffacts-make-you-stop-using-plastic%2F&psig=AOvVaw3mNI7NkQsWy7RU3AvDYdpF&ust=1550019565298472

[iii] https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwiI49bO_7TgAhVsUN8KHZM5D4cQjxx6BAgBEAI&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.pinterest.com%2Fpin%2F21673641928520691%2F&psig=AOvVaw3Skd1OmEzOWvCZ8xWQE1i2&ust=1550019720532705

[iv] https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwiBnoengLXgAhUEMt8KHWLJANwQjxx6BAgBEAI&url=https%3A%2F%2Fmuse.union.edu%2Fgarnetgoesgreen%2Faction-groups%2Fdrink-local%2F&psig=AOvVaw3Skd1OmEzOWvCZ8xWQE1i2&ust=1550019720532705