I have been educated thousands of people about the harmful effects of plastic pollution since I was 11. I am particularly focused on single-use disposable plastics such as plastic bags, bottles, and straws because these items we use for convenience are destroying the planet and its precious animals.
“These products are made to last for hundreds of years, using our precious fossil fuels, but are only used for a few minutes - and they last on our earth virtually forever”.
Last year, I decided she needed to do more to get my message out to fellow citizens, so I created Plastic Pollution Awareness Day with my state senator and the rest of the Georgia state senate. That day was such a success that I was able to duplicate the event this year and proclaim this February 15 as Plastic Pollution Awareness Day.
In honor of Plastic Pollution Awareness Day this February 15, I explain 5 common ways you may be destroying the planet - along with practical solutions that can be easily implemented.
You might think “what is the big deal with straws?”, but consider this: Americans use an estimated 500 million plastic straws per day. That’s enough straws to circle the Earth’s circumference 2.5 times! Considering that plastic straws are not recyclable, this is a large volume of plastic that ends up in landfills and beyond. Because of their size and shape, many escape from their trash containers and end up in the environment. And you probably have seen some of the devastating impacts that plastic straws have on animals - the video of the sea turtle with the plastic straw up its nose is very sad - if not horrific - to watch as its rescuers try to remove the straw.
There are many alternatives to plastic straws, including not using straws at all. If you feel you must have a straw, there are great, long-lasting bio-degradable paper straw alternatives. There are also glass and stainless steel straws that are made by leading companies. So the next time you go to a restaurant, tell your waiter, “no straw, please” (and inform the manager for added impact). And please don’t use the excuse that you don’t like your lips touching the glass - unless you use a straw when you drink beer or wine! Restaurants and other business should get in the act too - if you implement a “straws upon request” policy, you’ll drastically reduce the quantity of plastic straws that are used - which is savings to the bottom line.
Have you ever seen pictures of landfill trash? What you’ll see more than anything else is plastic bags. The average American uses around 500 disposable plastic bags per year (some estimates are even higher when you consider all types of plastic bags). Given how lightweight they are, they are a product that can easily escape from a landfill and end up choking our planet. They are also difficult to recycle in most jurisdictions. Given that China recently announced they were refusing to take recyclables from the US and other nations, this will put a burden on municipalities to efficiently dispose of plastic bags and other items.
Once you get in the habit, taking reusable bags to the store is easy and is more practical than plastic bags. You can fill them up and not worry about breaks or tears. What’s more, many stores provide a financial incentive if you bring your own bags to the store. Another alternative is to request paper bags from the store. Many grocery stores have paper bags but they won’t use them unless customers request them. Finally, another option is to not use a bag at all. How often have you purchased one item and had the cashier put it in a plastic bag? Crazy! And when you go to places like Costco and Aldi, you won’t see a plastic bag in sight. Do you complain that your purchased goods end back up in the cart?
You may not have heard of polystyrene, but you probably use it. This material shows up in coffee cup lids, plastic utensils, restaurant take-away or to-go products, and cups. And one type of polystyrene is styrofoam. Yes, styrofoam is plastic! In addition to the large quantity of polystyrene that is used and ends up in the landfill or in the environment (the EPA estimates Americans use 25 billion polystyrene coffee cups annually), one of the chemicals in this material - styrene - is a known animal carcinogen. These plastics are almost impossible to recycle.
I carry a stainless steel water bottle with me everywhere I go. You can also bring a stainless steel cup - there are some nice insulated ones too - with you. Offices can furnish coffee mugs to their employees rather than stocking their shelves with styrofoam cups. Regarding utensils, instead of taking plastic utensils, I carry (or put in the car) bamboo or stainless steel utensils. Use these products instead of polystyrene!
Americans use approximately 3 million water bottles per hour! And if you include the plastic cap, that’s 6 million plastic products that are getting trashed every hour of every day!
The alternative to plastic bottles? Keep a reusable cup in your bag, or carry around a stainless steel bottle. And just think about how much money you are saving by drinking tap water instead of costly bottled water. And since our federal government seems to love Norway so much these days, let’s follow Norway’s lead by instituting a full take back program for plastic bottles. As a result of this comprehensive program, Norway is recycling 97% of its bottles.
Did you know that cigarette butts are made of a type of plastic? Cigarette butts are one of the most common forms of plastic pollution. When I do street cleanups, I find more cigarette butts than any other type of trash. These butts are not biodegradable and are a material the earth cannot digest. What’s possibly worse, they leach toxic chemicals into the earth. Hopefully this gives you yet another reason to stop smoking!
I believe that knowledge is power, and now that you know better, you’ll do better! That’s the essence of Plastic Pollution Awareness Day; through education and awareness, we will all make better choices. So go forth and try some of my practical alternatives and you’ll see that it is rather easy to save the planet!
This is such a great article that I thought to post it here. You may have heard of the Bag Monster or have seen it at environmental conferences or presentations (let me know if you want to see a sighting). This article, by Andy Keller, CEO of Chico Bag, was originally posted in Sept 2011. Here Mr. Keller explains what a Bag Monster is:
Plastic Bags are not all bad, but when used excessively and in large numbers they can turn into Bag Monsters. They start as innocent balls of bags, however they can grow into a menacing creatures that cause all kinds of trouble. A Bag Monster is your annual consumption of single-use disposable bags – estimated to conservatively be 500 bags. You may never realize the size of your Bag Monster unless you keep all of our single-use bags for an entire year. If you don’t – you may only see small Bag Monsters, the one under your sink, the one in the pantry, the one in your trash or recycle bin or the lone bag monsters that travel our highways, swim in our streams or wave proudly from our trees. Despite your best intentions, Bag Monsters are born to roam wild and can escape trash cans, recycle bins, a picnic and even the landfill. It is really important to tame your Bag Monster by tying each bag in a knot to lessen it’s ability to become windblown litter.
The Bag Monster is not just comprised of polyethylene retail carry-out grocery bags, which according to the United States International Trade Commission, in 2008 is 102 BILLION annually. If tied in a chain, this chain would circle the earth 776 times!* If divided equally among all Americans, would equal 332 bags per man, woman and child. That is a scary Bag Monster in its own right. Can you image your body covered in 332 bags on a hot Summer day?
BUT WAIT, with BAG MONSTER – THERE’S MORE | In addition to grocery bags, the Bag Monster is comprised of all types of excessive plastic bags, from produce bags for single items, to newspaper bags on a sunny day, to all those poly bags in which our electronics come packaged. The Bag Monster thrives on our excessive consumption of plastic bags. The more you feed it, the bigger Bag Monster gets!!
Bag Monster is very secretive and tricky and does not want us humans to realize the size of his empire, or his secret plans to take over the world and cover it in plastic. Some suspect that he has been influencing how the government reports bag consumption and recycling rates. We hear that grocery stores give out more produce bags than retail carry-out bags, however Bag Monster keeps that a big secret. However, not deterred, we were able to do some digging and found that our estimate of 500 bags per year is VERY conservative. It takes some work, but if you like numbers, read on and see what we found.
According to EPA Report: MUNICIPAL SOLID WASTE IN THE UNITED STATES: 2009 FACTS AND FIGURES Table 7: Estimates in 2009, Bags, Sacks and Wraps equal 3.8 Million tons. Assuming a ton is 2,000 pounds, this equals 7.7 billion pounds. According to THE UNITED STATES INTERNATIONAL TRADE COMMISSION hearing on March 16, 2010, DIERDRE MALONEY, Senior International Trade Advisor for White & Case LLP testified (on page 163 of the transcript), that due to the limitations of publicly available information, she necessarily converted the “product 3” (Large “t-shirt sack” style bag with (a) dimensions 15-18”) public price data from pounds into 1,000 bags, using a conversion rate of 12.5. She said, while this estimate is not exact, it nonetheless provides a reasonable method to estimate the portion of total domestic shipments of bags of “product 3”. According to testimony, “product 3” accounts for almost 70 percent of the total U.S. shipments of PRCBs (Polyethylene Retail Carrier Bags) over the period of interest 2007 and 2008.
The EPA data cited above is clearly not comprised exclusively of product 3, but rather a wide variety of bags and sacks from sandwich baggies to large bags. Product 3 can serve as a fair conversion ratio for bags in general since some bags will be smaller and some bags will be larger. It is important to note that while Bag Monsters love trash bags, trash bags are reported separately in the EPA data and are not included in this calculation. Just think about all the plastic bags that line hotel trash cans that are sent to the landfill each day. Now think about all the office buildings. Bag Monsters love when you line ALL your trash cans with plastic bags. However, we are going to ignore this aspect of Bag Monster’s plan for now.
The EPA data cited above also includes wraps and film. To estimate the percentage of bags and sacks, we looked at the most recently published data available in the MUNICIPAL SOLID WASTE IN THE UNITED STATES: 2005 FACTS AND FIGURES report. The 2005 report was the last year the EPA provided data for bags and sacks separated from wraps. (We think Bag Monster had some influence here) Since this is the most recent data, we can use the ratio between bags & sacks and film as a fair estimate. In thousands of tons, wraps were reported to be 2,810 and bags and sacks were reported to be 4,450. Based on these numbers, we find the percentage of bags and sacks to be 37%.
Therefore, 7.7 Billion pounds of bags sacks and wraps * 37% = 2.85 Million pounds of bags and sacks divided by 12.5 the estimated average weight of 1000 bags * 1,000 bags = 227 Billion Bags divided by 307 Million people in the US (2009 Census Data) = 739 bags per person. This is a very large Bag Monster. We use the estimate of 500 because it is conservative and won’t anger the Bag Monster. If we say the Bag Monster is larger than he wants to be seen as, he may get really nasty!!
*Calculation is based on the following: 2008 bag consumption, according to U.S. International Trade Commission = 102,105,637,000. Earth’s Circumference = 131,480,184 feet, Average bag length = 1ft.
Please contact your state politicians in Georgia to express support for Senate Bill 383! This is a proposed law that Hannah has spearheaded, working with Senator Nan Orrock.
Please contact your State Senator and Representative in Georgia and urge them to support this important piece of legislation. Link to find your state politicians: https://openstates.org/find_your_legislator/
Here is content you can use (feel free to modify and make it your own) to call or email your Georgia representative and senator
"I am _____name______ and I am asking for your support for Georgia SB 383, which would ban the purchase or sale of ivory and rhinoceros horns within our great state. Each year, thousands of elephants and rhinos are killed by poachers in order to harvest their tusks and horns.
Elephants and rhinos are some of the most majestic creatures on earth. Sadly, they are currently on the path to extinction. In the early 20th century, there were approximately 10 million elephants in Africa. In 2016, scientists estimated that there were less than 400,000 remaining. And there is an elephant killed every 15 minutes, which means the population is reduced by over 30,000 annually. And with fewer than 30,000 rhinos in the world today, scientists warn that rhinos could be extinct in a decade.
Criminals are capitalizing on loopholes in US regulations. As a result, seven states have taken action to ensure they have no part in ivory and rhino horn trade. Let’s make Georgia the eighth state to show the world that extinction is not an option."
Hannah Testa, Young Eco-Warrior, and Environmental/ Animal Activist