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The other day when a lady asked me to manage my plastic footprints while I was throwing my coffee cup in a recycle bin, I was dumbfounded. What footprint? I stared at her blankly. I was throwing that in a recycle bin, what more do I have to do? I did a little research. The answer was quite simple and straightforward.
“Plastic footprint is the total amount of plastic you use and discard in your life span. It indicates your personal contribution to the worldwide plastic garbage.” Just think about yours for a second.
When I thought about mine, the contribution amount was quite disturbing. You don’t have to think hard. All those packets of chips, single-use water bottles that you buy every day, your caffeine fix, straws, plastic bags that you ask for every time you go to a grocery store or shopping malls, takeout food containers. The list is very long.
Even though we talk about the havoc, the plastics are creating in our ecosystem, but seldom we try to take the problem personally and do something on our own. You might say, “I throw my wastes in a proper recycle bin.” But unfortunately, recycling is not the solution. It is one of the options yes. But we must try to nip the problem in the bud.
Do you ever think what happens to the plastic you throw out? What exactly is happening to the plastic footprints you are leaving behind?
You have to understand that not all the plastics materials are recyclable. Water bottles, single-use bottled beverages, shopping bags (not all) are some of the materials that are most commonly recycled. They are dumped in a recycling plant where they are first sorted, broken down in tiny pieces, washed and melted into new raw materials. Now, these can be used again to manufacture new products. But the rate of recycling of plastic is significantly low.
Ending up in landfills
Most commonly form trash they ended up in landfills. Plastics are accumulating in landfills at a very high rate. Gradually they get compressed under other junks. But the problem is plastics are not biodegradable. Some of the plastics take 500 years to decompose.
They broke down into small pieces of harmful molecules called micro-plastics. These highly toxic molecules get absorbed with rainwater that falls on the landfills to form chemical compounds. These harmful chemicals leak into the soil, pollute groundwater, affect farmland and wildlife.
Ending up in oceans
As plastic is very lightweight, they often blown away and fall in the drain or streams and enter rivers. These rivers with all its garbage flow into the ocean. Rainwater also carries plastic wastes from fields into streams or rivers.
Illegal dumping of wastes in the seas is also one of the major reasons behind waste debris in the ocean.
You must have heard of the Great Pacific garbage patch, the largest accumulation of ocean plastic in the world. These kinds of debris are devastatingly affecting marine life. Some marine animals get entangled in this debris or mistakenly end up eating these plastic trashes for food which are proving fatal to them.
Simple ways to reduce your plastic footprint
We are all responsible for this mess. We need to reduce the amount of plastic we consume. It is only fair to take responsibility and start working on your plastic waste. It may seem impossible to imagine going through your day without using plastic in any form. It is everywhere. Period.
We use plastic because it is cheap, convenient, made to last and readily available. But by being a little conscious of your habits, you can bring a big difference in your plastic footprint!
Here are a few simple tips:
- Stop buying single-use water bottles every day – I know it’s more convenient to buy one. Why bother carrying a water bottle with you every time you go out? But these single-use water bottles are one of the major contributors to plastic pollution. They are recyclable. But how many of them are ending up in a recycling plant? Hardly 1 or 2%. Most of them ended up in landfills or oceans. Try to carry a reusable plastic water bottle or even better a stainless steel one.
- Carry a reusable plastic bag or canvas bag/jute bag – It’s not very difficult. We are just habituated to ask for plastic bags every time we buy something. Just keep a reusable plastic bag in your car or purse. By implementing only this single tip, you can significantly reduce your plastic consumption.
- Don’t fill your reusable bag with plastic in a grocery store – Put your produce directly into your reusable bag. If you absolutely need one you can buy small pouches.What is the point of taking a reusable bag if you are going to fill it up with more plastics?
- Buy in bulk – Instead of buying small jars of soap, shampoo, detergents, and other toiletries buy big ones.
- Stop using plastic cups for tea/coffee – We need our coffee and tea. I am not asking you to compromise on that. Those single-use coffee cups that you sip your coffee from for a few minutes take more than 50 years to decompose. A very few get recycled. Not worth using. Use those travel-friendly stainless steel ones. If it’s too much for you, try to have your tea/coffee at sit down restaurants. There are some eco-friendly cups available in the market too.
- A complete no to straws – Don’t fall for those cute and innocent looking straws. They are very dangerous culprits. They don’t get recycled at all and top of that they take nearly to 200 years to decompose. I strongly recommend you stop using those straws. Go back to that age-old method of sipping your beverages directly. If you can’t do without it, try using steel or paper straws.
- Avoid plastic cutlery – There are a few simple things that you can do to cut down your usage of plastic cutlery. Keep a travel size cutlery set in your bag.
- Stop buying plastic bottled beverages – Instead of buying packaged juices filled with preservatives that are in any way not good for you, eat fresh fruits or have freshly squeezed homemade juices. As for sodas, go for the aluminum cans. They are recycled at higher rates than plastic.
- Have less frozen food – I know frozen foods have a significant impact on our lifestyle, but the problem is they all need plastic packaging. By cutting on your frozen meals, you can significantly reduce your plastic waste.
- Go for plastic-free chewing gum – Chewing gum. Plastic? Yes, chewing gums are made of plastics. I always used to have one always in my bag. Now instead of that, I use mint tablets. Though not very popular, plastic-free alternatives are available in the market.
- In your kitchen, switch plastic storage containers with steel or glass jars – When I was young, I remember we used to have lots of glass jars and steel containers in our kitchen. That has become history now. Take a look at your kitchen. Mine was filled with plastic containers for everything and anything. Not anymore. You see not very popular plastic-free alternatives like glass jars or steel jars are still there in the market. Go for them.
- Avoid those plastic films for wrapping your food – Use aluminum foil.
- Avoid disposable pen – I know use and throw pens are very popular in the market, but you are just throwing more and more plastic.
- Stop ordering everything online – We have started buying every single thing online. Just think of that package of perfume that you ordered online. A small bottle of perfume and lots of bubble wrap plastics. Instead, again start using those refillable fountain pens or even better pencils.
I think that plastics are more of an addiction than a requirement. As you see every plastic item that you use in your day to day life have alternatives. All we needed is a little bit of extra effort to adapt to those in our lifestyle.
I am not asking you to go completely plastic free. That would be quite tough. Start small. You can start with any of the tips mentioned above. Just choose the one that you can stick to. These simple choices of yours can make a big difference over time.
Just remember every single time by saying. “No, thank you. I don’t need a carry bag.” You are doing a huge favor to your planet. Stop suffocating your planet with more and more plastics. Let your planet breathe.
About The Author:
Papia Banerjee is a passionate nature and travel blogger. Her life is all about living in harmony with nature, advocating green living and inspiring positive change into people’s lives all around the world. Her hobbies are gardening, reading suspense novels and cooking.