Some days, I feel like I can’t escape disposable plastics. My favorite deli wraps sandwiches in it, smoothie-cart staff serve drinks in clear cups and the office cafeteria keeps buckets of single-serve condiments and plastic utensils on display. These disposables, known as single-use plastics, are cheap, relatively strong and hygienic to use. But they cause problems around the globe.
In 2016, the world generated 242 million tons of plastic waste, according to The World Bank. North America, which it defines as Bermuda, Canada and the United States, is the third largest producer of plastic waste, totaling more than 35 million tons.
The sheer amount of waste isn’t the only problem. Plastics don’t biodegrade but can break down in the sun into smaller fragments known as secondary microplastics, which are harder to detect and clean up. Microplastics can enter the food chain and appear in everything from tap water to table salt, according to the United Nations Environment Programme. Plastic bags end up in the bellies of sea creatures again and again. Styrofoam containers take up to 1,000 years to decompose, according to the U.N.E.P., although other estimates say it can stick around forever. It’s also expensive to clean up: The U.N.E.P. estimates the total economic damage to marine ecosystems is at least $13 billion every year.
Plastics show up in other unexpected places. Choosing paper cups for hot brews seems helpful to the environment. The truth is, not so much, said Kendra Pierre-Louis, climate reporter for The New York Times.
“Even paper cups are lined with plastic,” she explained. That plastic, known as polyethylene, makes the cups liquid-proof but is hard to reprocess for recycling. And even though the cups get tossed in recycling bins, they still end up in landfills, as shown in an experiment with Starbucks cups reported on by The Denver Post.
A good way to reduce your waste contribution is by assembling a kit of reusable stand-ins and popping it into your commuting bag or office desk drawer so it’s always within reach. Wirecutter, the product review site owned by The New York Times, has tested many reusable options, suitable for everyday use. Here are some things you can do to reduce your own plastic waste.
[Read the rest on The New York Times]