REDUCE, Reuse, Recycle
Education Is The Key To Change
A few years ago I did not care about the environment as much as I do now. I knew others did, I knew we had problems, but wasn’t really into the whole idea of changing my lifestyle for it. So what changed?
I started to do some research myself and what I found is truly heart breaking.
Many people are unaware that the US ships out over 3 million tons of plastic waste to developing nations every single year. These nations include Ecuador, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Ghana, Senegal, Turkey, and more. Over 15 different countries in fact. But the US isn’t acting alone. The top five exporters of junk include the US, Japan, Germany, Belgium, and the UK. And since China recently banned import of our waste it has only gotten worse.
See, these countries can’t even handle their own waste. Since the ban, America’s plastic waste has become a global hot potato, ping-ponging from country to country until it eventually gets dumped somewhere most likely in places that are already virtually drowning in it. (1)
“A red flag to researchers is that many of these countries ranked very poorly on the metrics of how well they handled their own plastic waste. A study led by the University of Georgia researcher Jenna Jambeck found that Malaysia, the biggest recipient of US plastic recycling since the China ban, mismanaged 55% of its own plastic waste, meaning it was dumped or inadequately disposed of. Indonesia and Vietnam improperly managed 81% and 86%, respectively.” (2)
This isn’t even the heart breaking part though. How do you think this is effecting the people of these villages? Take Vietnam, Minh Khai, a village on a river delta near Hanoi for example. It is the center of a waste management site. Trash... our trash... lines almost every street in this community.
In 2018 alone, the US sent 83,000 tons of plastic recycling to Vietnam. America’s footprint there is clear as day as you can find a plastic bag from ShopRite, a chain of supermarkets in New Jersey, bearing a message urging people to recycle it, floating down the street. (2) The locals are forced to work at these dumping sites where they rummage through truck loads of trash to melt down plastic and churn out recycled pellets amid toxic fumes and foul stench. What they don’t use, they burn or it ends up getting dumped somewhere - most likely an open landfill or the ocean.
The following quotes are from an article by The Guardian where researches interviewed the locals that live near these dump sites.
- “We’re really scared of the plastic fumes, and we don’t dare to drink the water here. We don’t have money so we don’t have any choice but to work here.” - Nguyen Thi Hong Tham
- “There are many times it’s really hard to breath. Many of us here are getting sick. I had my daughter’s cough checked in the hospital, but the x-ray is clear. The coughing must be caused by the smell” - Helen Lota
- “It’s normally after eight o’clock, burned plastic, acidic, it hurts my chest. I try to seal my windows and block under the door with carpet. You wake up at midnight because of the smell. One day this land will be taken over by rubbish and not humans.” - Pang Song Lim
So now you see that recycling and cleaning up after yourself and others are not solutions to this ever expanding issue. Not to mention less than 1% of plastic gets recycled more than once. That’s why it’s REDUCE, reuse, recycle and that’s why I decided to make a change.
Below I have included a list of simple ways to reduce your plastic use. It’s nearly impossible to reduce 100% of your plastic waste. But my hope is that if more and more people switch to sustainable alternatives, plastic producers will be forced to adapt or go out of business.
- Buy boxed detergent instead of liquid or pods that come in a plastic container.
- Buy reusable beeswax to wrap your left overs instead of plastic wrap.
- Buy bamboo toothbrushes, straws, metal razors, shampoo + conditioner bars instead of bottles.
- Avocado pit cutlery, paper bowls/plates, instead of plastic for parties.
- Buy milk cartons instead of plastic jugs.
- There are actually eco friendly paper products like toilet paper, paper towel, tissues, made out of fast growing bamboo.
- Buy glass Tupperware instead of plastic.
- Buy reusable grocery bags and produce bags, or don’t use bags for produce and just throw them in the cart. They also make eco-frienldy trash bags now too!
- Cut out snacks that are wrapped in plastic, most of the time this is healthier for you anyway.
- If you order take out make sure to add in the notes no plastic cutlery, straws, or bag if they have another alternative.
All of these products can be found online with a simple google search. Some are already in stores and hopefully the rest will be soon when the demand is high enough.
One last thing you can do is elect officials that truly care. Our current officials refused to sign the Paris Climate Agreement, as well as participate in the Basel Convention, a treaty giving less wealthy nations the power to block the import of plastic waste. (3)
It’s time we all start taking responsibility for the damage we are doing to our planet.
- Plastic Pollution Coalition. “157,000 Shipping Containers of U.S. Plastic Waste Exported to Countries with Poor Waste Management in 2018.” Plastic Pollution Coalition, Plastic Pollution Coalition, 6 Mar. 2019, www.plasticpollutioncoalition.org/blog/2019/3/6/157000-shipping-containers-of-us-plastic-waste-exported-to-countries-with-poor-waste-management-in-2018.
- McCormick, Erin, et al. “Where Does Your Plastic Go? Global Investigation Reveals America's Dirty Secret.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 17 June 2019, www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/jun/17/recycled-plastic-america-global-crisis
- Holden, Emily. “Nearly All Countries Agree to Stem Flow of Plastic Waste into Poor Nations.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 10 May 2019, www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/may/10/nearly-all-the-worlds-countries-sign-plastic-waste-deal-except-us