Plastic Pollution: Time to Kick the Habit

April 25, 2014 | Posted in: Sociology

Waste Collects on the Shores of Timor-Leste, 2008 UN Photo, Martine Perret

Waste Collects on the Shores of Timor-Leste, 2008. Photo courtesy of Martine Perret, of the U.N.

“Plastic is a material that Earth cannot digest. Every bit of plastic ever produced still exists and will be here with us for hundreds of years. Once in the environment, plastic breaks down into smaller and smaller particles that attract toxic chemicals, are ingested by wildlife on land and in the ocean, and contaminate our food chain… However, plastics are not destroying our environment and compromising our health by themselves. It is our use of them that has catastrophic consequences. A material that lasts hundreds of years in the environment should never be used for applications that last seconds, minutes, hours, or even days.” Earth Island Journal


A few days ago was Earth Day: that one day of the year when social media is flooded with sappy photos of people hugging trees and cleaning up trash. You’ll also probably see the angry “Earth Day has lost all meaning in the face of human ambivalence” rant, followed by a few news clippings highlighting some progress towards sustainability.

The big story I saw this Earth Day was that San Francisco had banned plastic bottled water. Now, this turned out to be an overstatement, as S.F. simply took the first step in banning the use of bottled water at events held on city property (hardly a city-wide ban).

Plastic Pollution

Pollution: A Mute Swan has built a nest using plastic garbage. Thue, 2008.

But any step towards curtailing the insane amount of plastic waste created each year is worthwhile. The U.S. alone generated 32 million tons of plastic trash in 2012, with only 9% of that being recycled (and even recycled plastics end up in the dump heap eventually). Yes, any story that keeps this insane and unnecessary amount of waste in the public consciousness is certainly doing good, reminding us all that the plastic menace has infiltrated the soils, oceans, air, and animal bodies (including us humans).

Wonderful steps have been taken since the 1990s to educate, tax, and find sustainable replacements for harmful plastics, including compostable containers, reusable shopping bags, and even fungus packaging. Yet, it isn’t enough just to find replacements for plastic. It’s our modern “disposable” paradigm itself that must be examined:

“With almost 7 billion people in the planet, a throwaway culture addicted to disposable plastics is likely to continue harming our environment, whether these are made out of oil, or of plants. We believe that rethinking our habits and our uses of plastic is as important as rethinking the material itself.”¬†Plastic Pollution Coalition

Our smallest actions accumulate to create our society’s large-scale impact on the ecological world. In this way, the changes we make in our own individual lives matter greatly. Saying no to plastic, whether it be bags, bottles, toys, containers, one-use silverware, to go boxes, or packaging, will ensure a healthier future for all life.

But, since humor is always preferable to ranting, let this video convince you if I haven’t:


Just one person out of 7 billion + on a journey to live a life that is vibrant, soul-fulfilling, useful to others, and consciously engaged with the ecological community that sustains all life, including mine and yours.