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They say nothing lasts forever… but have you met plastic? Plastics will outlive you and take hundreds if not thousands of years to degrade! So when they are ‘’thrown away’’ they actually just accumulate in landfill sites or on land – and eventually end up in our rivers and oceans.
Here are the top 9 problem plastics, in order of their abundance on beaches, and easy swaps for you to join the global movement to #UseLessPlastic, #BeatPlasticPollution and think #PostPlastic by going beyond #PlasticFreeJuly.
1. Prevent plastic jellyfish
Plastic shopping bags can often be mistaken for jellyfish floating in the sea, causing turtles to see them as food and thus eat entire plastic bags which threatens their internal organs and affects their chance of survival. Buy and use reusable bags which are strong and environmentally friendly and pledge to #rethinkthebag!
2. Wake up and smell the coffee
Globally more than 100 billion single-use cups are discarded each year. Combined with the vast volume of disposable coffee cups, the plastic coffee cup lid is not recyclable. Coffee cups also have an inner plastic lining which makes them non-recyclable. The South African Coffee Club (SACC) says coffee consumption and business have grown dramatically in South Africa with less than 20 roasteries ten years ago versus the just over 100 today! Carry your own reusable coffee mug – it’s becoming a trend and, with many cool eco cups to choose from, you can also make it a fashion statement!
3. The last straw
Plastic straws are one of the most popular litter items on South African beaches, and have been found to kill seabirds when they are swallowed. They have also been found to get stuck in the nasal cavity of turtles, a painful sight for us and a terribly painful experience for them. There are so many options of trendy reusable straws from glass to steel and even bamboo!
4. “Water we talking about”?
Plastic water bottles are a major waste, and water, offender. It can take up to a 26 litres of water to produce a 1 litre plastic bottle and another 3 litres of water to produce 1 litre of bottled water! Bottled water is not only expensive to buy, but the plastic manufacturing process is resource and energy intensive. When discarded, the bottle tops are not recycled and if the bottle is not recyclable they break down into microplastics. Purchase a WWF glass bottle instead.
5. Listen up!
Earbuds, until the 1980s, were made from rolled wax paper – yet today they are predominantly made of plastic! Paper earbud sticks do exist, so push your retailer to stock these and choose them instead.
6. Not so sweet
Discarded plastic sucker sticks pose a similar problem to earbuds, often swallowed by sea birds and other marine creatures. Reverting to cardboard sucker sticks, would solve this problem!
7. Be a sport
Sports drinks with push-pull ‘spigots’ (drinking spouts) actually take more plastic to produce than conventional screw-on lids, and the clear plastic covers over the spigots are particularly prone to littering as they are pulled off and discarded. Also, we love clean beaches and we don’t want litter nor the breakdown of these lids into microplastics.
8. Don't be a sucker
Individual sweet wrappers are another super abundant litter item. Not so sweet when these lightweight wrappers are whipped up by the wind and dumped into rivers, lakes and wetlands and eventually make their way to the sea. Why not buy unwrapped sweets and store them in your own fancy glass jar?
9. What are we feeding our planet?
Fragments of cups, packaging containers and trays made from polystyrene are one of the most ubiquitous forms of litter on our beaches. There is an average density of three pieces of polystyrene per metre of sandy beach in South Africa, and peak values on urban beaches of up to 30 pieces per metre. Polystyrene items are unrecyclable. And scarily, each and every second there are 140 000 items of polystyrene food packaging that are disposed of.
Bring your own container for takeaways, as well as saying no to plastic cutlery and sauce packets that you probably won’t even use.
So the next time you’re doing a morning coffee run, sipping on a smoothie, meeting your daily water goals or grabbing a takeaway meal, think about what you’ll be putting out into the environment. Say no to single-use plastics where ever you can!
And how about a little bit of purposeful enviro-friendly retail therapy to get yourself some trendy reusables you can flaunt at work and in your social circles (not why we do it but nonetheless, a cherry on top). After all, very small action adds up to big change.
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