In today’s world we need to be proactive about being corrective because one of two things is bound to happen: a) the death of plastic or b) the death of our planet.
More than 40% of plastic is used just once with over 51 trillion microplastic particles currently living out their non-biodegradable lives in our oceans. Every year, 8 million tons of plastic enters the water system leading to the ingestion — and ultimately the deaths — of approximately 1 million seabirds and 100,000 marine animals.
This December I went to Bali, a tropical haven near the equator featuring coasts known for their surfing, diving, black sand beaches, and more. Bali has my heart, but my heart broke seeing plastic littering its serene beaches. It was everywhere. Swimming on the coast of Canggu meant bumping into plastic bottles. Walking on side streets meant hearing and feeling the crunching of plastic packaging beneath your feet. Diving and snorkeling the coral reefs of Nusa Penida meant actively dodging plastic bags and food wrappers, as if playing an extreme dystopian video game.
But it’s not a game, rather a very real concern. We have a choice to make. Not only can we not survive without our planet and its resources, but our very bodies are already being affected by the plastic epidemic. Scientists have now detected microplastics in humans’ systems. That’s right, you’re now a whole lot of water and a little bit of plastic!
But let’s start from the beginning. The world’s first plastic was bakelite, invented in 1907 by Leo Baekeland. “Plastic” gets its name from the plasticity property, which refers to malleability without breaking. Plastics were made to be bent, stretched, squished, and squashed, all the while remaining virtually indestructible. The versatility of this invention made it hyper-malleable to our lives. Throughout the last century plastics have become essential to just about every part of our existence, from the clothes we wear and the cars we drive to the toys we play with and the groceries we haul.
Plastic has changed our lives for the better, but our planet’s health for the worse.
Today, more efforts than ever before are finally being made to, at the very least, reduce the impact of plastic. Some people, companies, and even countries, are eradicating plastic entirely from their lives. After accumulating no more than a mason jar of trash over a multiple-year span, Lauren Singer of Trash is for Tossers created a business based on products that help you lead a trash and plastic-free life. Grocery stores in the UK have opened plastic-free zones to act as models of what a shopping experience could and should be, in hopes that the supermarket giants will follow suit. Bali most recently banned plastic bags, providing people with a 100% biodegradable plastic bag alternative made from cassava, a root vegetable.
Other brands are focusing their efforts specifically on removing the single use aspect of plastic. P&G, the company behind everyday household brands like Pantene, Tide, and Oral-B is creating refillable packaging in partnership with Loop. Startups like by HumanKind are eliminating single use plastic from your morning routine with refillable cartridge deodorant and even package-free shampoo bars.
More and more brands are inviting their customers to return plastic directly to them so that they can reuse and recycle themselves. Adidas has created shoes that are fully recyclable and made from ocean plastic, that you can return to Adidas once you’ve worn them out.
We must vote with our dollars by turning to brands who are spearheading massive efforts, just as we must support startups that are seeking to use technology to shed light on all the players. French startup Clothparency has created a tool to help you analyze how eco-friendly your clothes are, taking into account water pollution impact, carbon footprint, and more.
It will be a while (perhaps an eternity?) until we can take strolls on the beach without encountering plastics and until turtles can swim oceans without confusing deadly plastic for delicious jelly fish. But we have to start somewhere. For us and the turtles…
Alexandra Mathieu is a freelance marketing strategist who likes to read, write, and draw. Visit her on her website or on Instagram at @JustMissAlex.
Illustration by: Alexandra Mathieu