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Single Use Plastics: The Impact and Possible Solutions

Did you know that plastic waste has become a significant global environmental and disposal challenge? Single use plastics are the largest culprit of our disposable consumer lifestyle.

Globally, 335 million metric tons of plastics was produced in 2016. Half of this was used for single-use products. That means that 17 million barrels of oil was used to make plastic water bottles. To put this into context, this is enough oil to fuel 1 million cars annually.

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What are Single Use Plastics?
Single use plastics, also known as disposable plastics, are materials that are used once before being discarded. These includes plastic items such as grocery bags, water bottles, forks and spoons, food packaging, and more.

What is the Impact of Single Use Plastics?
Plastics are made from fossil fuels and leave a large carbon footprint. Once plastics are used (sometimes only once), only a small percentage is recycled, and plastics take hundreds of years to disintegrate.

Plastics can also cause damage by polluting our oceans, damaging marine animals and birds, leaching toxins into food and drink, and entering our food chain through microplastics and nanoplastics. Plastics now make up 90% of all trash floating on the ocean surface and plastic pieces outnumber sea life 6 to 1. This has caused dead spots with floating garbage in the Mariana and Kermadec trenches of the Pacific Ocean.

What are Some Possible Solutions?
There are several steps you and your community can take to reduce the usage of single use plastics. This will include a combination of awareness campaigns and public outreach to increase knowledge on the subject, along with policies to create an incentive for people and businesses to act. Since each municipality is unique, there will be different answers to this issue. Below are some possible solutions.

1) Organize a Community Event
You can work with residents to bring awareness to the impact that plastics have on the environment. There are several events that you may be interested in organizing for your community, including:

  • World Oceans Day – On June 8th, communities around the global will be coming together to protect the ocean by preventing plastic pollution. There are free resources available to plan your event such as cleanups, festivals, lectures or readings. You can also use the #WorldOceansDay hashtag on social media.
  • Plastic Free July – The month of July has been dedicated to raising awareness about single use disposable plastics and how people can reduce their usage. Millions of people and 159 countries have participated to avoid landfill waste and reduce their eco-footprint. You can join the challenge here and access their free setup toolkit here. Follow them on social media by using the #choosetorefuse hashtag.
  • International Coastal Cleanup Day – For the last 30 years, Ocean Conservancy is calling on people to collect and take a note of trash that is ending up on the coastline. This event will be held on September 15th. You can follow on social media and use the #CoastalCleanup hashtag.
  • Host A Film Screening – You can also host a short film screening to encourage your residents to begin talking about the impact of plastics. Two films to note include ‘Bag It Movie’ and ‘The Story of Bottled Water’.

2) Create Public Education Campaigns
Develop education campaigns for the general public on how they can reduce their single-use plastic consumption. These campaigns can include posters, banner ads, social media posts and more.

The messaging can focus on conscious consumer choices residents can make to reduce their plastic footprint. Some examples include:

  • Bottles – Use a reusable bottle of tap water, instead of buying plastic bottled water
  • Bags – Bring your own canvas tote bag, instead of using plastic grocery bags
  • Straws – Say no to plastic straws at restaurants or with your go-to drinks
  • Packaging – Purchase food from small stores or bulk food stores, instead of using pre-packaged foods

3) Consider Plastic Policies and the 7R’s
San Francisco, CA is an example of a city that has an 80% waste diversion rate. It is the first city in the U.S. to ban plastic bags in 2007 and it also banned harmful styrofoam products such as food packaging and go-to containers last year. Its goal is to become a zero waste city by 2020.

Most consumers are aware of the 3R’s – reduce, reuse and recycle. You may also want to consider sharing the 7R’s with your community. These include:

  • Repair – Upgrade or fix materials before disposing them.
  • Regift – Share or pass along items to someone else.
  • Recover – Upcycle to help recover materials and energy.
  • Refuse – Say no to materials or items that you don’t need such as plastic straws.

Share Your Story With Us
Does your community run promotional campaigns to help increase awareness around single use plastics? How effective is it? We’d love to hear from you.

About Recycle Coach

Recycle Coach is an online platform that makes recycling easy—for our cities and the people they serve. We empower municipalities with tools that connect residents to local waste and recycling information when they need it.


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