Yet another group of researchers has concluded that plastic has infiltrated the deepest, darkest depths of the sea. Last week, a crew of marine biologists confirmed that they had found irrefutable evidence of plastic in every single deep-sea creature they had collected in the Mariana Trench, the lowest known point on the earth’s crust. The problem with this is not necessarily plastic, itself, but rather the way that plastic attracts toxins known as PCBs. Recall that plastic hasn’t been around long enough for scientists to know when it will biodegrade; National Geographic cited figures anywhere between a half-millennium to never.
BREAKING: First-of-its-kind report finds that every stage of the #plastic lifecycle is toxic to human #health, & most people worldwide are exposed at multiple stages #toxicplastic #HiddenCostsofPlastic https://t.co/bC1hXwdYE7 pic.twitter.com/Jc0QTnSCQJ
— CIEL (@ciel_tweets) February 19, 2019
While plastic has been a life-saving technology in the context of modern medicine and humanitarian aid, consumer plastics are simply a matter of convenience and habit in the United States, and there are some things you can do at the individual level that will help make a small difference in the amount of pollution that eventually settles in the bottom of the ocean. I say “small difference” because the reality is that something like fishing nets and other fishing gear make up nearly half of the plastic the plastic waste that we consume as a species, according to a survey of plastics in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. That means that one of the biggest changes you can make to reduce your plastic footprint is giving up fish, or at least opting line-caught options, which theoretically would limit the amount of plastic that risks being left in the sea.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and even resentful over making plastic-free choices in your daily life, especially the arguably less impactful choices like giving up plastic straws which really don’t account for much of the plastic volume in the ocean. The main burden, for me, is the extra stuff I end up lugging around with me so that I don’t have to resort to using plastic bags and plastic cutlery, or having to carry around two-pounds of water with me at all times instead of being able to pop into a bodega to buy a refreshment whenever it suits me. But cutting down on disposable consumer plastic also has its trivial substantive benefits that actually go a long way in keeping me inspired to make plastic-free choices.
Here are three unexpected ways that cutting out consumer plastic has kept me somewhat optimistic about the future of our planet:
I Cut Down on Food Waste
Food waste is one of my environmental and economical pet peeves. It accounts for about seven percent of greenhouse gas emissions, and much of it could instead be diverted to efforts to feed local communities or be integrated into soil health.
So, one of my favorite plastic-free changes is carrying around my own “to-go” container with me. You never know when you’ll need it! I’m basically ready at all times to take home leftovers — I love leftovers — from restaurants, family meals, and parties, where the food would otherwise have gone straight into the garbage.
I Learned How to Make Things Like Homemade Crackers
Going totally plastic-free for even just a day will make you realize how much packaging goes into pantry staples that you might have taken for granted. Even something run-of-the-mill like a box of crackers or a container of yogurt requires you to buy packaging that likely isn’t even recyclable in your community.
Since I happen to love to cook, I took this as an opportunity to learn how to make these things from scratch as a way to reduce my plastic consumption. Homemade crackers take about 15 minutes to make and cost infinitely less than the fancy ones I used to buy for when I have friends over for dinner, and the homemade yogurt I make is so ridiculously delicious that, the first time I made it, I ended up eating so much of it on a two-week binge that my face broke out in hormonal, jawline acne. (That last part wasn’t so good.) I try not to think too much about how happy this makes me, considering how unnecessary crackers and yogurt are in the grand scheme of environmental devastation.
I’m Way More Hydrated
Since I don’t drink soda and always felt that bottled water was a huge rip-off, I was never much of a plastic bottle user in the first place. After making a pledge to myself to cut down on plastic use though, I invested in a 1-liter steel water bottle that I throw in my bag whenever I leave home.
It sounds sort of silly, but I actually drink water now because I have access to it; before owning a good water bottle, I would just go about my day slightly dehydrated. It’s actually a bonus that this plastic-free choice is so freaking heavy, because it actually makes me want to drink the water in order to lighten my load. Of course, I live in a community that has access to clean, potable, readily accessible water. By 2025, the WHO estimates that half of the world’s population will be living in water-stressed areas. I guess I’ll add that to my long list of apocalyptic concerns.