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Battling Plastic Pollution One Cup at a Time

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Iris wants nature to survive and thrive for all future generations. She believes that a healthy earth is necessary for humankind to survive.

In today’s world, plastic pollution is a real – and serious – problem. Plastic is virtually indestructible, and takes hundreds of years to biodegrade. According to a paper published in the journal Science Advances, 8.3 billion tons of plastic have been produced till date – of which 79% is now waste. This is largely due to single-use products such as bottles, straws, plastic bags and cutlery.

This plastic is disposed of either in landfills, where it’ll lie for hundreds of years, or dumped into the ocean – where marine creatures mistake it for food and ingest it, only to die a slow, painful death.

Every year, approximately 10 million tons of plastic end up in the ocean. The largest culprit, perhaps, are plastic bottles. Roughly 480 billion plastic bottles were sold around the world in 2016 – or a million bottles a minute. Of this staggering sum, 110 billion bottles were made by Coca-Cola alone.

You see more plastic than twigs and leaves in this landscape.

You see more plastic than twigs and leaves in this landscape.

Imagine all of this waste floating on our seas, polluting them. Now, you’re probably wondering how marine animals end up consuming plastic. Mistaking a plastic bag for a jellyfish is one thing, but what about the smaller bits and pieces that birds often end up eating?

Scientists at BBC have found that plastic not only looks like food, but it also smells, feels, and sounds like food!

Once ingested, plastic can kill in many ways. It can get lodged in their food or wind pipe and suffocate them. Small, sharp pieces can pierce the stomach and kill the animal. Or, if enough pieces of plastic end up in the creature’s stomach, it can starve to death, because its stomach is so full of plastic that it can’t eat any actual food.

In addition to animals eating plastic, there have been numerous instances of them getting caught in plastic, with nets wrapped around their necks or feet cutting off circulation, plastic bags wrapped around their faces suffocating them, or larger items – such as this air vent – getting caught around their neck and slowly growing tighter as the animal grows bigger.

The effects of plastic on wildlife aren’t limited to the oceans, either. According to Stefano Ianiro, 26 year-old wildlife technician from Montreal, “My work often takes me out into the forest. Frequently, I see plastic in birds’ nests. They find pieces or strips of plastic lying around, and weave it into their nest.”

So how does this affect birds? Ianiro explains, “This disrupts the thermodynamics of the nest, which ultimately alters the egg hatching and development process. This can mean smaller brood sizes, and if done on a larger scale it can even alter a species' population – especially the ones living closer to the city.”

That's not even the only problem! Even after plastic is broken up in tiny microparticles, they stay in the water and soil, still being ingested by animals. Plastic just doesn't go away, even after it degrades so much that we can't even see it anymore.

Recycling bins in Egypt

Recycling bins in Egypt

So, what can you do to help? Remember the three Rs – reduce, reuse, recycle.

Reduce your usage of plastic, by buying fewer products that come wrapped or encased in plastic. Stop using disposable cutlery, straws or bottles – it’ll make a huge impact. Reusable or biodegradable alternatives of a lot of plastic products are available today – metal straws, reusable bottles, cloth bags, reusable coffee cups…just about everything you can think of.

Reuse the plastic products you do buy – so you need to purchase fewer single use plastic items. Yogurt cups can be used as makeshift plant pots, plastic bags can be used to line the trash, plastic bottles can be used as makeshift funnels or to store inedible liquids (such as cleaning fluid, for instance).

Recycle your plastic waste as much as possible. A lot of plastic isn’t recyclable – roughly 23% of plastic bottles are recycled in the United States. Learn the difference between recyclable and non-recyclable plastic, and find your nearest recycling centers, so you can choose recyclable products and drop them in for recycling conveniently.

In addition to these, there are many other things that you can do. Spreading awareness and picking up litter are two great examples. If you go to the beach, to a park, or to the forest and find plastic bottles and other garbage lying around, pick them up! It’s a good way to exercise, and you’ll be helping the environment. If you’re with friends, cleaning up a small stretch of beach will take just a few minutes.

You might think one small change on your part wouldn’t make a difference – but it would! If you stop buying a plastic cup and straw for your daily coffee, you’ll prevent 365 cups and straws from getting dumped into the ocean each year – and you might rub off on your friends and inspire them too! The power of the Butterfly Effect is inestimable.

Personally, I’ve decided to make the switch to reusable coffee cups – among other products (cloth bags, wooden earbuds, and other sanitary products). I decided on coffee cups because I felt this was how I’d make the biggest difference – and it was also convenient and financially feasible for me.

The product I went with was the collapsible cup by Stojo. There are a couple of reasons why:

1. Collapsible – Frankly, this was an added bonus. When I first started researching reusable cups, all the options I found were ordinary, solid cups. Then I stumbled across Stojo, and I gotta say, its being collapsible is a welcome bonus.

2. Pricing – The pricing is okay. I won’t say it was a steal, but it’s a fair price for the product. I bought this cup, and for $20 plus shipping, it’s pretty alright. I get a 10 cent discount at Starbucks for bringing my own cup, so if I stick with Starbucks for a year, I’ll make up for the expense.

3. Quality – This cup is some sturdy stuff. It looks a bit flimsy in some of the pictures, but it’s really quite nice to hold. The cup folds down neatly, feels firm, and the cap’s pretty good. It’s leak-proof – although I’d strongly recommend giving it a good shake (and a rinse as well, if possible) before putting it in your bag, just in case.

4. Positive reviews – I have a circle of friends that are also environmentalists, and I asked them if any of them had tried Stojo out. Although they hadn’t, they knew some people who had, and their experiences were largely positive. That, coupled with the other pluses, turned me in its favor. And my experience, as you can probably tell, is definitely positive!

battling-plastic-pollution-one-cup-at-a-time

You might encounter some minor problems while making the switch. For instance:

1. You’ll need to wash the cup after use, unless you’re either very careful, or fine with coffee drops on your stuff.

2. Old habits die hard, so remember you’re using a reusable cup and don’t accidentally throw it into the trash after you’ve finished your coffee!

3. The coffee might taste a little bit different in this cup. Maybe it’s just me, but I think some food items (especially junk food) change their taste depending on the container they’re in.

4. Now, although you’re likely to make up for the expense within a year, don’t let that be the chief factor affecting your decision. Some of us are more rough with our products than others, and some coffee places don’t offer a discount. So, your mileage may vary. Do it for the environment, not for the dollars.

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