There is a continent of plastic in the ocean. Spread out across 3 of the 5 main ocean gyres, the collective plastic starts as large pieces and eventually degrade into billions of microplastics that contaminate ocean life down to the deepest parts of the ocean. You may have heard recently that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch alone is four to 16 times bigger than previously thought.” Specifically, the Pacific Gyre’s “patch” is more like a giant island of garbage containing 1.8 trillion pieces of trash. It is more important than ever to reduce plastic consumption. 

Reduce Plastic
Image by Pat Bagley. Originally published in the Salt Lake Tribune March 22, 2018.

Some people — including the current administration’s EPA Office — question whether or not human activity plays a role in climate change and environmental degradation. We cannot deny that plastic pollution, and the accompanying emissions and additional waste that goes along with plastic production is a result of human activity.

Humans are the only animals that make, consume, and toss out plastics. Everything from plastic water bottles to cell phones are causing major environmental devastation. Sadly, other animals, especially marine animals — and everyone along the food chain — suffers as a result.

Plastic Waste: Part of the Problem

In many developed countries, we are lulled into the false sense of security regarding waste. Garbage goes away. However, the away is a real place, and it no longer wants our garbage. Up until January 2018, China had been processing at least half of the world’s exports of waste paper, metals and used plastic — 7.3 million tons in 2016, according to recent industry data.”

No longer willing to be the West’s garbage dump, China’s decision to stop taking the world’s waste prompted many countries to rethink packaging, garbage, and recyclables.

Reduce Plastic
Ocean Garbage. Image from

According to, “7 billion pounds of non-recyclable plastic are produced every year.” The chemicals associated with the waste are contaminating life on the planet everywhere, including humans. The plastic in the ocean damages ecosystems, and harms animals when they consume or get caught in plastic waste.

On land, similar issues can arise, and the plastic eaten by animals gets into our diets as well. Only 7% of the plastic in the U.S. is recycled. And we are quickly moving beyond recycling as an effective solution to plastic waste. Toxins in plastics and microplastic contamination are exploding, and we must be proactive to reduce the waste. 

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Ways To Help Reduce Plastic Waste:

In honor of Earth Day, and Earth itself, here are five great ways to reduce your plastic use and leave a lighter footprint. 

1. Just Say No to Plastics:

The 3 Rs, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, give the impression that any one of these Rs is as good as the other for helping the planet. The truth is, some Rs are more important than others. The most important R is Reduce.

Helping reduce plastic consumption takes paying attention.

Reduce Plastic
Image originally published on

If you do pay attention, you will notice plastics everywhere. If you start to take note of where your primary plastic use is, you can begin to reduce or change your consumption. For example, when you order a drink at the bar, ask for no straw. Don’t buy food contained in single-use plastic.

Use your own grocery bags, water bottles, coffee mugs, bulk containers, etc. These ideas are just the basics, there are always more ways to reduce plastic consumption. DIY culture is having a boom. Making your own shampoos and deodorants is a great way to cut down on plastic. If you start looking for ways to say no to plastic, you will see others are, too.

2. Shop Sustainably:

When you do want to buy new things, consider a few key questions: Do you need it? How often will you use it? Could you borrow it or get it second-hand? How much plastic does it have? Maybe you think these questions are tedious, but if you start to challenge your consumer habits, you can make swift changes to a more sustainable lifestyle.

Groups such as the Toronto Tool Library make borrowing tools easier. A Swedish shopping mall has even gone as far as selling only refurbished second-hand goods. There are tool libraries all around the world, as well as a growing number of grocery stores focusing on making grocery shopping more sustainable.

Many grocery stores also have bulk aisles — some will even let you use your own containers! When you shop for food, also consider where the product came from. For example, palm oil, chocolate, and coffee are not always safely produced. They are often unsafe for the environment and for the people involved in production.

Luckily, you can keep sustainability in mind both in terms of fair trade and the environment.

Reduce Plastic
Original image by Annie Crawley.

When you do shop new, consider researching the company from whom you buy. REI and Patagonia are leaders in sustainability in their products, but big-name companies are not alone. Look for recycled materials, no microbeads or other microplastics, and quality guarantees (if it lasts longer, you won’t have to replace it later!)

3. The Forgotten R: Repair

I have adult friends who have never sewn a button. Our culture does not consider repair a viable economic model. However, repairing rather than replacing is both economically and environmentally significant. Repair shops and events are cropping up more and more. I fixed part of my sewing machine thanks to a YouTube video.

While it is true that you can’t fix everything at home, you might learn something if you give it a try.

Reduce Plastic
Image from Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax.


4. Recycle Correctly

Recycling is preferable to throwing waste in the trash. However, it is important to recycle correctly. Not all cities require separating paper, plastic, glass, and metal. However, one key part of recycling is to make sure there is no food residue or water. Additionally, more and more frequently, plastic bags are not making the cut. So, first, stop using plastic bags. Second, make sure you keep your recyclables free of food or water. Finally, keep up to date with your neighborhood’s recycling policies.

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5. Advocate for Change

Taking action on the personal level is important. However, making large cultural changes is the only way to truly make an impact on the pending environmental disasters. Help influence your city, state, and country to move away from wasteful practices. You can do this by supporting environmentally conscious politicians, helping petition for plastic bans (helping reduce plastic), and educate others. There are more and more ways to reduce your carbon footprint.

Helping others understand the importance and advocating for the environment is the best way to create change.

Reduce Plastic
Plastic Detox Mindmap by Jane Genovese.

Environmental Justice is Social Justice

Despite the history of excluding minorities from Green movements, environmentalists have begun to see the intersections of environmental justice and social justice. Indeed, the two go together. Possibly unsurprisingly, climate change and pollution disproportionately affect people of color and people living in poverty. Taking steps to protect the environment and live more sustainably must include advocating for others.

Additionally, living a more environmentally sustainable lifestyle can be expensive. Although buying in bulk is often a financially smart approach, it is important to acknowledge that not everyone can always have access to the most eco-friendly options. Keeping this in mind, if you do have access and ability to make a sustainable choice, consider it both a privilege and a duty to help where others may not always be able to. 

It is easy to get caught up in a nihilistic mindset. The problem is huge, and plastic is not going away fast enough. But, hope is on the horizon. For example, the UK has just proposed a ban on single-use plastics. Additionally, more and more places – from Malibu to Paris have made steps to ban single-use plastics including cutlery and straws.

Recently, scientists accidentally discovered a plastic-eating enzyme. There are also countless blogs and resources to reduce plastic consumption. Keep in mind the ways you can help reduce plastic and other waste and help keep the planet healthy.

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