Have you ever stopped to think about how much plastic you use every day? From the time you wake up to the time you go to bed, there are probably dozens of plastic items that you encounter — sandwiches covered in plastic wrap, plastic bags from the errands we do over our lunch hour, straws from our favourite fast food restaurant, and plastic water bottles. Most of these things are used once and then tossed away.
Single-use plastics make up 50 per cent of the plastic litter in our oceans. The problem is, once plastic enters the ocean it becomes almost impossible to get rid of and animals end up eating or getting entangled in plastic. They may also be affected by harmful chemicals that come off of the plastics. And these impacts aren’t limited to just one type of animal. Whales, turtles, sea lions, fish, birds and the tiniest plankton are affected. Even humans! A recent study showed that most sea salt contains microscopic pieces of plastic.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Here are five easy ways that you and your family can reduce plastic pollution and help protect ocean animals.
- Avoid plastic water bottles. There are 4,000 plastic bottles used every second. Why is this such a bad thing? Because plastic never really disappears. It just breaks apart into smaller and smaller pieces called microplastics. It takes 450 years for one plastic bottle to break apart in the ocean or a landfill. Using a reusable water bottle is a simple change with big impact!
- Bring a reusable grocery bag. In Canada, people take home 55 million plastic bags each week, or 2.86 billion plastic bags every year. Now that is shocking! Sea turtles are known to eat plastic bags because, to turtles, bags look just like jellyfish. The alternative couldn’t be easier – keep reusable bags in the trunk of your car. That way you always have them when they’re needed!
- Skip the plastic straws. In Canada alone, 57 million straws are used and tossed every day. In the U.S., 500 million straws are used every day. That’s a lot of straws! The best thing to do is avoid straws completely. If you need one, use a paper straw or a re-usable streel straw. Remember: it’s ok to say “no straw please” at a restaurant.
- Pack a litter-free lunch. Instead of using plastic wrap and plastic bags to store your lunch, choose a glass container that you can use over and over again. Try wrapping your sandwich in pieces of fabric (or a bandana) too.
- Host an eco-friendly birthday party. Balloons might be fun for children’s parties, but did you know that some marine animals mistake balloons for food? Switch to more eco-friendly and reusable decorations at your next birthday party and start a trend! Encourage your guests to use recycled paper as gift wrap. Avoid putting plastic trinkets into your loot bags. And try using jars instead of plastic cups and plastic bottles.
There’s no doubt that plastic has provided amazing contributions and benefits to society. For instance, plastic car parts make cars lighter and more fuel efficient, plastic insulation can make our homes more energy efficient and thanks to plastics, advances are being made in space exploration.
But…pieces of plastic are everywhere in our oceans. Around 8 million metric tons flows into the ocean every year. If things continue, there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050! Recycling helps, but not all plastics are recyclable. If we want to make the world a healthier place for all of us, the best thing to do is reduce how much plastic we use every day.
Small changes can have huge benefits. Let’s start now to reduce our use of single-use plastics!
In Partnership with
The Canadian Wildlife Federation is dedicated to fostering awareness and appreciation of our natural world. By spreading knowledge of human impacts on the environment, conducting research, taking action to conserve habitat and wildlife, recommending legislative and policy changes, and co-operating with like-minded partners, CWF encourages a future in which Canadians can live in harmony with nature. Visit CanadianWildlifeFederation.ca for more information.
Contributor: Terri-Lee Reid is a Freshwater Conservation Researcher at the Canadian Wildlife Federation (CWF). She leads initiatives in researching, designing and delivering freshwater programs and advocating CWF’s freshwater positions to government, the public and other stakeholders.