plastic beach pails on the sand at beach

by Emily Logan | 5 Gyres

At some level, we are all ocean lovers, so it’s heartbreaking to realize that plastic pollution kills one million sea birds and 100,000 marine mammals each year in our seas.

How do we stop that? Your daily actions can make a difference.

Here are five steps to ensure that you are not contributing to plastic pollution in the ocean.

1.     Start by measuring your “plastic footprint.”

Keep a personal plastic use diary and note every product you use in a day or a week that’s plastic or packaged in plastic. You'll be surprised! Once you know your baseline, you can set specific goals to reduce or eliminate your plastic waste generation.

One easy way to get started is to go digital: for example, there is no need for plastic CDs, DVDs, and jewel cases when you can buy your music and videos online. Spread the word. Talk to your family and friends about why it is important to reduce plastic in our lives and the nasty impacts of plastic pollution, and get ideas from them about creative ways to cut out plastic. Remember: with the exception of the small amount that has been incinerated (which has its own environmental issues), virtually every piece of plastic that was ever made still exists in some shape or form.

2.     Cut disposable plastics out of your life.

Plastic often begins its journey to the ocean when people litter or the wind blows trash out of a garbage can and into a storm drain. From there, it travels through sewer pipes, into waterways, and finally it reaches the ocean. You can prevent this by never using those disposable plastics in the first place.

Replace sandwich bags and juice cartons with a reusable lunch bag/box that includes a Thermos.

Bring your to-go mug with you to the coffee shop, smoothie shop, or restaurants that let you use them, which is a great way to eliminate lids, plastic cups, and/or plastic-lined cups from your life.

Seek out alternatives to the plastic items that you rely on. Simple options include bringing your own bag to the store and never using those thin plastic bags. Your produce doesn't need them. Refuse single-serving packaging, excess packaging, straws, and other “disposable” plastics.

3.     If you must use plastic products, reuse them.

Fifty percent of the plastic in our lives is used once and thrown away. That's just crazy! Carry reusable utensils in your purse, backpack, or car to use at cookouts, potlucks, or take-out restaurants. Carry a reusable water bottle and store food in non-disposable containers. Once you have reused a plastic bottle as much as you can, then at least be sure to recycle it. If you must use plastic, be sure to choose #1 (PETE) or #2 (HDPE), which are the most commonly recycled plastics.

4.     Take the pledge to boycott products with microbeads.

Cosmetics companies have flooded hundreds of products (mostly facial scrubs but also shampoo, toothpaste, and lip gloss) with microbeads: tiny balls of plastic used to exfoliate our skin. One tube of facial scrub contains more than 300,000 plastic microbeads. When you wash off those tiny pieces of plastic, they go down the drain, pass unfiltered through sewage treatment plants into our rivers and lakes, and enter the ocean. Once there, they soak up environmental pollutants like DDT before unsuspecting fish gobble them up, to be eaten by other fish or by us humans. The microbeads used in personal care products are mainly composed of polyethylene and polypropylene, so check the labels to make sure you are never buying microbeads.

5.     Take care of the beach.

Some plastic pollution gets into the ocean via the beach or a boat. You can be sure you will never contaminate the ocean with plastic by always cleaning up after yourself, whether you enjoy diving, surfing, or just relaxing on the beach. If you're on a boat, never allow any plastic bags, straws, or cups to go overboard. Go even further by encouraging others to respect the marine environment or by participating in local beach cleanups.

Get started today! 

by Emily Logan

Emily Logan is Director of Acquisition and Retention at Care2, where her team works with member activists to spread the word about their petitions on ThePetitionSite, builds petition campaigns into full-scale organizing efforts, and helps keep current Care2 members happy and engaged. In her time at Care2 she has also worked extensively with hundreds of nonprofit organizations to help recruit activists and donors and build out their online strategies. Emily has a B.S. in journalism and a B.A. in music from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo and currently lives in rainy Portland, Oregon with her cat, Ostrich.

Photo credit: RedBoy [Matt] via VisualHunt / CC BY-ND

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About The Author

5 Gyres Institute's picture

The 5 Gyres Institute has led the effort to research aquatic plastic pollution and to find solutions for regaining a plastic-free ocean, empowering citizens to become leaders in combating the global health crisis of plastic pollution. To understand the impact of plastic pollution they study the 5 subtropical gyres by sailing through them, organizing research expeditions, inviting scientists, journalists, and other sailors to join the crew, working side-by-side to conduct the science, and return to their communities engaged to promote solutions.

To eliminate plastic pollution they employ strategies that work: Advocating new materials, better designed products, fair legislation, and engaging in consumer education. Post-consumer cleanup efforts focus on coastal and island debris removal and mitigation.

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