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Why Should We Reduce The Use Of Plastic

Why Should We Reduce The Use Of Plastic - Almost Zero Waste

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Plastic waste is a growing issue that we face everywhere around our world.

Even though it is undeniable that plastic provides various benefits in our society, it is not enough to say that we overuse it without thinking about the consequences.

But why should we reduce the use of plastic, and what are the actual outcomes?

Here is why we should reduce the use of plastic – 

Reducing the use of plastic is essential because plastic production requires an enormous amount of energy and resources. This causes carbon emissions and contributes to global warming.

Recycling plastic is inefficient – only 9% of plastic ever produced has been recycled. Instead, about 60% is discarded in landfills and oceans. There, it stays for thousands of years, transforming into “microplastic,” leaching into our water supplies and food.

These are just a few reasons. In this article, we will observe a few crucial points on why it’s important to reduce plastic waste. 

We will go through:

  1. Plastic production issues
  2. How plastic waste contributes to climate change
  3. Why recycling plastic waste is not the solution
  4. How plastic waste affects animals
  5. How plastic affects humans
  6. Benefits of reducing plastic waste
  7. What can we do about plastic waste?
  8. Conclusion
Why Is It Important To Reduce Plastic Waste - Almost Zero Waste

1. Plastic production issues 

Plastic manufacturing requires a massive industrial process, which leads to various environmental and social impacts.

First, we get the vast majority of plastics from non-renewable fossil fuels by processing oil to obtain the raw material for plastics.

A study calculated that we use around 4% of the world’s petroleum to make plastic and another 4% to power plastic manufacturing processes.

It might sound like little, but from 1950 to 2012, plastics production increased – from about 1.7 million tons to nearly 300 million tons per year.

(source)

Worldwide, an enormous amount of plastic waste is disposed of in landfills, where it takes valuable space.

Even worse, a massive amount of this plastic waste (~40%) is single-use packaging. 

So, we waste tons of resources and energy to use things ONCE and dispose of them afterward. 

Finally, poorly managed plastic waste streams can block rain drains and sewers, which prevents proper drainage and increases sanitation-related risks.

We can all agree that these production patterns aren’t sustainable, which is a good reason to reduce plastic waste.

Why Is It Important To Reduce Plastic Waste - Almost Zero Waste

2. How plastic waste contributes to climate change 

There are three main stages of a product life cycle – production, use phase, and waste management. 

Production of plastics

As we figured, to produce plastic products, we need a lot of energy from non-renewable sources, which generate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Use

A substantial percentage of plastics are designed for single use. So after a quick “convenient” use, it goes directly to the trash.  

Waste management

No mass-produced plastics biodegrade, so they are usually collected in landfills, dumped in the wild, or floating in the ocean.

The sunlight weakens the materials, which causes fragmentation into particles known as “microplastics.”

The additional problem is that many landfills represent serious hazards without proper management.

The only permanent way to eliminate plastic waste is by thermal treatment, such as combustion.

However, the impact of waste incinerators is often inefficient because it produces hazardous and toxic gases.

So, the most common methods of dealing with plastic waste result in 1) microplastics that impact human & animal health and 2) air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions

Related post: 8 Waste Disposal Problems and 8 Solutions
Why Is It Important To Reduce Plastic Waste - Almost Zero Waste

3. Recycling process and rates of plastic

Recycling plastic waste sounds like a great solution.

But of course, it isn’t as simple as we all wish.

MATERIALS

Current packaging materials often include several different layers.

Each layer has special properties, which makes it much harder to recycle.

An additional problem is in plastics in durable applications, like cars, electronics, crates, etc. 

REQUIREMENTS

Furthermore, each recycling facility has specific requirements that most of us don’t know about and don’t follow.

For example, separating the waste properly or cleaning the packaging from food. 

If items are dirty with food, the whole recycling process gets much more complicated.

It is possible to contaminate the whole batch and ruin the recycling process.

RESOURCES

Plastic waste recycling systems need to be more complex than traditional waste processing systems, which leads to higher waste management costs.

While recycling helps and requires fewer sources than extracting and using raw materials, it still uses a lot of energy.

Additionally, recycling facilities apply old techniques. Even though recycling is essential for reducing plastic waste, it is not efficient:

Conventional mechanical recycling methods such as sorting, grinding, washing, and extrusion can recycle only 15–20 % of all plastic waste.

To sum up, recycling is not as effective as simply reducing (as much as we can) plastic waste.

Why Is It Important To Reduce Plastic Waste - Almost Zero Waste

Rates of recycling

Research from 2017 concluded that for 2014:

  • The highest recycling rates were in Europe (30%) and China (25%).
  • In the United States, plastic recycling has remained at 9% since 2012. 

More researchers estimated that only 9% of plastic ever produced has been recycled and that, without action by 2050, there will be 12 billion tonnes of plastic in landfills and the environment.

4. How plastic waste affects humans

Quality of life

Local air quality and pollution can directly impact the quality of life of people.

Lacking technical health standards exposes people and workers (in recycling facilities) to a range of pollutants, injuries, infections, and other severe health problems that contribute to low life expectancy.

Plastic additives

Some plastics are dangerous and toxic for humans, such as #3 (PVC) or Bisphenol-a (BPA), a chemical that disturbs hormones.

Plastics can include hundreds of additives (PDF source); the worst part is that manufacturers are not even required to reveal this.

Any plastic can leach into your food or even skin, depending on the conditions (light, heat) and the additives that it may include.

Plastic in our freshwater supplies 

Microplastics have been detected in wastewater, fresh water, air, and drinking water (bottled and tap water).

Furthermore, studies also found microplastics in foods such as fish, shellfish, honey, beer, and sea salt. YIKES! 

We need more studies to understand better the consequences of plastic ingestion.

However, we should consider that human health is at risk from microplastics in drinking water and our food chain.

For example, a study suggested that microplastics can cause physical damage, biological stress & leaching of additives.

Another research suggested that microplastics may also serve as vectors* for harmful organisms.

Finally, according to available data, wastewater treatment can effectively remove just about 90% of microplastics from wastewater. 

All in all, certain plastics are not intended for contact with our food or water, yet they can harm us.

Just try to imagine eating plastic. Yikes.

*vector – an organism that transmits a disease or parasite from one animal or plant to another
Why Is It Important To Reduce Plastic Waste - Almost Zero Waste

5. How plastic waste affects animals

Marine wildlife and other animals

Marine wildlife is especially vulnerable to plastic pollution because approximately 10–20 million tons of plastic end up in the oceans each year.

 Animals such as seabirds, whales, and dolphins can become entangled in plastic matter.

Moreover, some plastics float on seawater, and sometimes animals eat them because they confuse them for food. 

Once plastic reaches the ocean, it does not go away.

It breaks down into small pieces eaten by sea life and transferred up the food chain, carrying synthetic and toxic pollutants.

Larger plastic waste is already shown to harm wildlife animals, too.

Why Is It Important To Reduce Plastic Waste - Almost Zero Waste

6. Benefits of reducing plastic waste 

There are many great benefits of reducing plastic waste, such as: 

  • Lower CO2 emissions – Reducing the use of plastic will result in fewer carbon emissions from producing, transporting, recycling, and disposing of the waste materials.
  • Reduces natural resources – The production process requires natural sources like water, oil, natural gas, and coal. We can lower the amount of new raw materials by reducing plastic usage and recycling what’s already there.
  • Reduces pollution – Reducing plastic waste will reduce the contamination of the environment, soil, air, and water. There will also be less illegally dumped plastic waste in the oceans.
  • Less trash is going to incinerators, landfills, and oceans – We can save up on depleting landfill space, reduce the plastic entering our oceans, reduce burning plastic and release toxic gases.
  • Lowers the demand for fossil fuel consumption – Petroleum is a finite all-natural resource, so reducing plastic waste will also ease the need for fossil fuel consumption.
  • Less plastic makes our food, water & air cleaner and safer – Microplastic is found in our food, water, and air. Less plastic will decrease this issue.
  • Saves animals and human lives – Microplastics are everywhere, and we consume many of them without knowing. Chemicals in plastic that leach out can be toxic and cause various health issues. Furthermore, thousands of animals die from getting entangled in plastics or digesting them.
  • Saves money – In the long run, reusable items are cheaper than constantly purchasing more plastic.
  • It helps sustain the environment for future generations

7. What can you do about plastic waste?

Plastic waste is a huge problem, and REDUCING our use of plastics is the most efficient and easy way to fight the problem.

So the best thing we can do is prevent new sources of plastics from entering the environment.

Reducing unnecessary plastic consumption is a great start, so can consider the following:

1) Reduce

This will reduce plastic waste and increase the demand for improving product and packaging design.

Reduce your plastic usage by bringing your bag to the shop, buying loose produce and bulk whenever possible & visiting your farmers’ market.

2) DIY

Look online for DIY tutorials for some essentials that you use daily, like dry shampoo, deodorant, face masks, etc.

These are super easy to make, and you can find a lot of variations. You can check my DIY category, too.

3) Find package-free and more eco-friendly packaging alternatives

Nowadays, you can discover ALMOST anything in sustainable packaging that can be reused and recycled endlessly (such as glass and aluminum).  

Do a quick online search and find what is available to you. Some zero waste (online) shops offer package-free things, too! Also, check my list with more than 100 low-waste products.

4) Buy second-hand

Second-hand items are much more sustainable since they’ve already been created and circulated. Buying second-hand will also save things from going to landfills. 

5) Buy reusable products

Ditch single-use disposable items for reusable ones.

6) Repair, reuse and upcycle things

Instead of throwing away things, consider repairing and upcycling first. Then, even if you already have plastic items lying around (or you can’t avoid buying something), you can reuse and upcycle them. 

Related post: 24 Things To Do With Plastic Containers (Repurposing Ideas)
Why Should We Reduce The Use Of Plastic

8. Conclusion 

Plastic litter can be found everywhere – on streets, fields, beaches, forests, and oceans. Plastic waste CAN affect the quality of life, health, tourism, and even our economy. 

It requires a lot of energy and resources to be created and recycled. Furthermore, $13 billion a year is used from environmental damage to marine ecosystems, financial losses by fisheries, tourism, and the time spent on cleaning beaches.

The solution is in our hands – reducing (as much as we can) the use of plastics. 

For more tips on living a more eco-friendly lifestyle, you can check these 16 expert tips on achieving a plastic-free & zero waste home.

Feel free to share in the comments below what are your struggles when it comes to avoiding/reducing plastic!

20 Comments

    1. Hi Rebecca, I’m glad to hear that your New Year’s resolution is to become more eco-friendly! I would recommend looking for online stores that share more about themselves, and that focus on sustainable materials, production processes, etc. There are many online shops, that simply resell cheap products, made unsustainably. The one you shared doesn’t seem that trustworthy if I have to be honest. You can try to check the following websites:
      https://earthhero.com
      https://zerowastestore.com/
      https://packagefreeshop.com/
      If you aren’t US-based, check my article with 47 zero-waste online stores, worldwide: https://www.almostzerowaste.com/zero-waste-online-stores/

  1. No doubt every individual can contribute in reducing the plastic waste but a massive step needs to be taken by government and other regulatory bodies to handle it at large scale before it’s too late.

  2. Great post! We too really try to limit our plastic use and thankfully our town recycles all plastics. However, using less is always better than recycling. Another option I would add to the list is trying to reuse containers. Plastic is hard to completely avoid, but sometimes you can find re-uses for plastic containers instead of dumping them into the recycle bin.

  3. Using the information of this blog, I am creating a presentation at my school about how mad plastic waste is. We are trying to reduce plastic in our school lunches. Thanks so much for all the information, and I hope many of my friends look at this site too!

  4. This is a piece of great information! Can I use some of your data here for my reports? May I ask when did your team publish this?

  5. Meri, I commend you for your interest and efforts.
    I am 72 years old and “once upon a time”, grocers sometimes put your groceries in reused cardboard boxes instead of bags. The boxes going out of the store were the same ones in which the groceries came into the store. I am now grocery shopping with a small reused cardboard box with handles cut in the cardboard. It is amazing how much easier it is to shop with a box instead of bags. A box holds so much more and allows you to stay aware of your purchases and to organize things prior bringing them back to your kitchen. I keep my box in my cart and I tell the cashier to NOT bag any thing, just put items that have been “rung up” back in my cart or hand each item to me. I then put the items back in the box in order that they will be stored in my kitchen. I usually warn the cashier, “here comes that crazy guy with the box” . LOL

  6. I like the way you shared information with the public. It is very useful article. Keep posting my friend.

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