By Thais Lopez Vogel, VoLo Foundation
July is the month devoted to reduce plastics, especially those we use only once. This commitment needs urgency, as only about 5% of the 46 million metric tons of plastic waste currently produced in the United States each year is recycled. Between 4 and 12 million of these metric tons of plastic enter the ocean.
This situation affects sea turtles, whales, birds, fish, coral reefs and numerous other marine species and habitats. Scientists estimate that more than half of all sea turtles and nearly all seabirds have eaten plastic during their lifetimes.
As the Oceanic Society states, plastics are forever. The plastic bags we use in our everyday lives take 10 to 20 years to decompose; plastic bottles take 450 years. Other plastic items take up to 1,000 years.
We also face pollution from microplastics, tiny fragments released not only from plastic objects, but also from tires, clothing and cosmetics.
To make matters worse, a University of Hawaii study revealed that plastic exposed to the elements releases methane and ethylene, two potent greenhouse gases that contribute to worsening climate change.
All of this means that recycling efforts are far from sufficient. So we must simultaneously work to reduce our use of plastic, especially by rejecting single-use plastic. It is the only way to increase our efficiency to address the problem. We are talking about straws, plastic bags, eating utensils, stirrers, beverage bottles and takeout containers. Carry reusable substitutes, instead.
We should also be mindful of using plastic-free cosmetics and microbead-free beauty products.
When you refuse single-use plastic items, let businesses know that you would like them to offer eco-friendly alternatives. And lobby your local authorities to optimize plastic recycling in your city. We can’t do much without them, but they won’t get very far without our support.
The key to moving toward a world with less and less plastic pollution lies in the three R’s: reduce, reuse and recycle. July is the right month to move toward that goal.
Thais Lopez Vogel is founder and trustee of VoLo Foundation, a private family foundation established in 2014 that educates audiences on how to create a sustainable and secure planet for generations to come. To learn more, please visit please visit www.volofoundation.org and follow @volofoundation on social media.