Despite the fact that it has been an issue as long as plastic has been a part of our everyday lives, the concept of “plastic pollution” is finally finding itself at the front of common lexicon—what it is, how it affects us and how we can prevent it.
The common understanding of plastic pollution has evolved beyond the image of trash as a mere eyesore to a pervasive presence permeating the environment on land, air and sea. In the news and on the internet, we see it in ocean gyres, as microplastics in the bellies of the smallest links on the food chain and in the water we drink. We know what plastic pollution looks like, and it is no longer out of sight, out of mind.
We now know that it leaches chemicals into the ground where we grow our food, and the food that feeds our food, and releases toxins and greenhouse gases into the atmosphere as it breaks down (slowly) in landfills and in the environment. That we’re projected see more plastics than fish in the ocean by weight by 2050 if things don’t change is a rallying call to governments, businesses and individuals to steer a course away from inevitable crisis.
“Ending plastic pollution” is the theme this World Ocean’s Day (June 8), as it was this year's World Environment Day and this year’s Earth Day (and Earth Month), encouraging worldwide awareness and action for the protection of the environment from its negative impacts. This particularly pressing concern is addressed from several angles, but the unifying front is the idea that every day is a day to end plastic pollution, no action too big or too small.
Earth Day Network, the organization that leads Earth Day worldwide, provides a plastic pollution calculator to find out how many plastic items one consumes and discards each year by asking individuals how many items they use in a day. Items used daily, such as plastic dining disposables and to-go cups, and occasionally, such as plastic bags or medicine bottles, add up quickly. Once this consumption has been calculated, there’s a call to pledge to reduce this amount, engaging consumers around a plan to end plastic pollution.
The United Nations’ World Environment Day is the "people's day" for doing something to take care of the Earth. This year hosted by India, WED’s “Beat Plastic Pollution” message reached hundreds of millions of consumers through the #uselessplastic ad campaign, a light-hearted, funny series of television spots that gives a new spin to the phrase “be useless.” Humor has been cited as inspiring people around climate activism, and getting through to people is the first step in changing behavior.
Plastic pollution prevention is the action focus for today’s World Oceans Day, a global day of ocean celebration and collaboration for a better future. Changing our behavior towards plastic by reducing our purchases is, much more than recycling, the most effective way to effect change, but actively finding solutions for the plastic we do consume is also important. TerraCycle’s many free programs are sponsored by brands committed to recycling what is still considered difficult to recycle, and we have Zero Waste Boxes for hundreds of plastic items.
The world didn’t become littered with plastic pollution overnight, and it’ll take a bit more than that to beat it. Mobilizing around the environmental holidays celebrates awareness and brings to attention the resources available to all of us in the battle against plastic pollution. Making the decision to act in the interest of reducing the impacts our consumption makes on the environment doesn’t need to be grand or sweeping, but an honest one that you continue to make every day.