According to The Balance, a single plastic bottle can take up to 1000 years to biodegrade.
Why is that a problem? Biodegradation is the breakdown of matter into simpler molecules by microorganisms such as fungi and earthworms. This entire process returns things back into the environment. For organic matter, such as banana and orange peels, biodegradation is easy because the molecules that they’re composed of are very simple and easily broken down.
However, it is not so for plastic. Plastic’s composition is extremely complex, which makes it impossible to biodegrade back into the earth. Instead, all plastic will do is continue fragmenting into smaller and smaller pieces, called microplastics.
How small are microplastics? According to NOAA, microplastics are less than 5 millimeters long, but most pieces of microplastic are too small for the naked eye to see and end up in ecosystems like the ocean, where marine wildlife often eat it without meaning to.
In fact, microplastics are so small that most of us eat some every day! One marine food source of microplastics is sea salt. If you eat the max recommended daily serving of 5 grams of salt, this would mean you would typically consume three microplastics a day. Love seafood like mussels and fish? According to the World Economic Forum, avid mussel eaters might eat up to 11,000 microplastics a year. Meanwhile, the average consumer might eat up to five microplastics a day from a portion of fish. Incredibly, scientists have even found microplastics in honey and beer! Eating plastic is obviously disgusting and not the healthiest thing we can put in our bodies. In addition, what makes eating plastic most dangerous is that plastic is like a chemical Trojan horse, as toxic chemicals like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are attracted by plastic and latch on to the surface of plastics.
Larger, intact plastic items like plastic bags, are also a threat to our marine wildlife. For example, sea turtles often mistake a plastic bag as a jellyfish (their favorite snack!) and take a huge bite out of it. Once they realize that it isn’t a tasty jellyfish, they are likely already severely ill, or worse, dead.
Different bird species, specifically pelicans, dive into the ocean for fish when they spot something reflective and shiny floating on the surface. However, more often than not, the shiny item is not a fish but rather small bits of plastic (such as water bottle caps and chapstick containers). Items as small as straws can be deadly to animals who mistake it for their next meal.
The harm plastics have on the environment is clear. These facts show us how important it is for us to change our plastic-using habits. Because plastic is such an integral cog in modern life, it is impossible to remove all plastic from our lives. There are, however, several simple habits we can adopt to reduce our plastic use to help wildlife like sea turtles.
Ways you can help:
1. Using reusable straws!
Around 500 million straws are used a day in the United States alone. That’s about 182.5 billion straws a year! Plastic straws are offered at almost every restaurant and are also easily available at most stores. However, these little pieces of plastic are severely harming our environment. For all the negative environmental effects of plastic, a plastic straw is typically used for just 20 minutes. An easy solution is obviously to stop using straws entirely, however, that may be difficult for some people to do. Instead, consider purchasing a set of reusable straws to use at home. They can be bought in many different materials and forms and at a low price, and are extremely easy to clean. In fact, you can purchase reusable bamboo straws from our partners EVO here.
2. Using reusable bags
Using items such as fabric shopping bags, which can be purchased for a dollar or less at most grocery stores, are a great way to help wildlife like cute sea turtles. You can even create your own shopping bag from extra cloth or a simple old t-shirt. You can learn how here.
3. Using reusable water bottles
According to National Geographic, drinking from plastic water bottles is often less clean than drinking regular tap water. Don’t fall for this common misconception. Using a reusable bottle is not just eco-friendly, but also healthier and more stylish (you can decorate your reusable bottle!)
4. Pack a lunch with reusable tupperware
We’re all familiar with the Ziploc bags that we use to store sandwiches and other foods inside our lunch bags. However, most people throw away their Ziploc bags when they’re done with them, which causes more plastic pollution. Instead, try using a reusable container to store food!
5. Finally, say NO (nicely!)
The next time you are at a restaurant and are asked if you want a straw, just say no! Saying no to that single straw could be saving an innocent sea turtle’s life. When checking out at the grocery store and the cashier starts putting your items into plastic bags, SAY NO! Tell them to STOP and then gracefully pull out your reusable bags like the true conservation hero you are.
Although Earth Day just passed, we believe that we should live every day as if it’s Earth Day. We have 11 years to radically change how we are polluting the planet before almost irreversible changes happen to our Earth. Remember, change starts with you! While one person may not be able to single-handedly save our planet, together, we can make a sizable difference.
These changes may seem difficult at first. Just take it one step at a time. Before long, you’ll be living like a proper conservation warrior.
Don’t forget, you have the power to influence those around you. Share your efforts on social media (please follow Green Generation @GreenGenHOU) or with your friends and family and educate everyone you can! Let’s save our only planet!
- Written by Sky Chen, Anahid Akbaryan, Oreana Camera, and Apoorva Das