Tuesday, June 5, 2018

#BeatPlasticPollution By Choosing Reuse on #WorldEnvironmentDay

Today is an important "holiday" of sorts for those of us who are sustainability professionals. On this day in 1972, the UnitedNations Conference on the Human Environment, held in Stockholm, Sweden, began (conference dates were June 5-16, 1972). The purpose of that conference was to discuss human interactions with the environment, as well as encouraging governments and international organizations to take action related to environmental issues, and providing guidelines for such action. This was the UN's first major conference on international environmental issues, and it culminated in what's commonly called the "StockholmDeclaration”—the first document in international environmental law to recognize the right to a healthy environment. Two years later, in 1974, the first World EnvironmentDay was held on June 5 with the theme of “Only One Earth.” Since then, World Environment Day has been celebrated annually on June 5th. Each year has a theme around which activities center, and beginning in the late 1980s, the main celebrations began to rotate to different cities around the globe. Learn more about the UN Conference on the Human Environment at https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/milestones/humanenvironment and the history of World Environment Day at http://worldenvironmentday.global/en/about/world-environment-day-driving-five-decades-environmental-action

This year’s World Environment Day theme, chosen by the host nation, India, (New Delhi is the host city) is “beating plastic pollution,” with the tagline “If you can’t reuse it, refuse it.” If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably already aware of why reuse is so important and why “reuse” is a higher priority on the US EPA Waste Management Hierarchy than recycling or other forms of materials management (if you need a refresher on that, check out myprevious post highlighting a “Well-written Piece on Reuse vs. Recycling”). Still, it’s worth taking a moment to ponder some statistics related to plastic consumption that make the choice of reusable products rather than single use products so important. According to the WorldEnvironment Day web site: "While plastic has many valuable uses, we have become over reliant on single-use or disposable plastic – with severe environmental consequences. Around the world, 1 million plastic drinking bottles are purchased every minute. Every year we use up to 5 trillion disposable plastic bags. In total, 50 per cent of the plastic we use is single use. Nearly one third of the plastic packaging we use escapes collection systems, which means that it ends up clogging our city streets and polluting our natural environment. Every year, up to 13 million tons of plastic leak into our oceans, where it smothers coral reefs and threatens vulnerable marine wildlife. The plastic that ends up in the oceans can circle the Earth four times in a single year, and it can persist for up to 1,000 years before it fully disintegrates. Plastic also makes its way into our water supply – and thus into our bodies. What harm does that cause? Scientists still aren't sure, but plastics contain a number of chemicals, many of which are toxic or disrupt hormones. Plastics can also serve as a magnet for other pollutants, including dioxins, metals and pesticides."

To combat the environmental and human health issues associated with the global addiction to single use plastics, the UN Environment Programme is encouraging people to join the global game of #BeatPlasticPollutiontag. Here’s how to play:
  • Choose which type of single-use plastic you're ready to give up.
  • Take a selfie (photo or video) showing yourself with the reusable alternative that you're ready to embrace.
  • Share your selfie on social media and "tag" three friends, businesses or high-profile people to challenge them to do the same within 24 hours. Be sure to use the #BeatPlasticPollution hashtag and mention @UNEnvironment.

So what single use plastic item will you pledge to give up today—straws, plastic shopping bags, bottled water, plastic coffee pods, or something else? Here are some resources to support potential positive changes:

 Check out https://thelastplasticstraw.org/ to learn more about the impacts of single use plastic straws on the environment, particularly on wildlife. See also thisWaste 360 article on National Skip the Straw Day. If you can opt to drink straight from your glass or take-out cup, that’s great, but if circumstances (e.g. drinking in the car, dental equipment such as braces or expanders, offering a drink to child that hasn’t learned how to handle a cup, etc.) mean the use of a straw would still be preferred, consider reusable stainless steel or glass straws, which can be washed using special brushes typically available from the same vendors as the reusable straws. Encourage party planners, restaurants, and other large food service operations to consider sturdy paper straws rather than plastic. Paper straws will at least degrade faster than plastic, and the resulting materials won’t be harmful. Where composting facilities exist, paper straws could be put into the compost bin along with food scraps. There are even edible options like the LOLISTRAW or the simple switch to using hollow pasta to sip your drink, as is done in a restaurant in Bristol in the UK. For even more alternatives, see https://thelastplasticstraw.org/resources/.

Reusable tote bags for groceries are pretty common these days, with many retailers selling their own branded bags near check outs. If you struggle to remember to bring in your reusable bags from your car to the grocery store, consider options that can fold into a pouch when not in use. There are some small enough to clip onto your keys, like those made by Chico bags, so if you’ve remembered your car keys, you’ll have at least one reusable bag with you (if you’ve locked your keys in the car, you have more immediate problems than waste reduction!). I’ve gone a step further and purchased a few cloth produce bags to replace the plastic options offered by stores; just a few examples include Chico’s produce bags and those made by Ecobags. Also, are you faithfully taking reusable bags into your grocery store, but not using them at other retailers like the book store, clothing store, etc.? Start using them whenever you know you’ll need a bag, or if you’re only making a small purchase, tell the retailer you don’t need a bag at all. 
If you're reading this blog you probably don't need suggestions for a reusable water/beverage bottle, but let me point out a couple of twists on the concept. Consider a product that can be both bottle and cup, like a traditional thermos or the Dopper by Preserve, which can be both a bottle and a cup. Currently produced in the Netherlands, Preserve will be working to ultimately manufacture the Dopper in the US from 100% recycled materials. Secondly—I always say the greenest product is the one you already own. Consider washing out a glass jar that originally held sauce, jelly, or other product, or use an old mason jar to hold your cold beverages. If you're lucky like me, you’ve got a mason jar-style mug with the logo of your favorite local barbecue joint, which once upon a time held delicious sauce. 

If you’re using a beverage maker that employs single-serving plastic pods, reusable versions of those “coffee pods” exist, into which you can put your own coffee grounds or tea that you’ve bought in bulk. Check out alternatives at Perfect Pod.

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