Tag Archives: Plastic

Single-use plastics are bad, why can’t we stop using them?

According to Indy Star, we’ve seen the destruction: A turtle struggling to breathe with a plastic straw stuck up its nose. A whale starving to death with a belly tangled by plastic shopping bags.

The public is increasingly aware of the harm that single-use plastic products do to wildlife and the environment. And yet, at grocery stores and restaurants, we take them without a second thought. Why?

Not just McDonald’s and Starbucks: These Indianapolis are curbing their straw waste. This Subaru plant is less trashy than you: How the Lafayette facility went zero waste

“Research shows that knowledge isn’t the only thing that will change behavior. You usually need much more,” said Caitie Nigrelli, an environmental social scientist at Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant. “The benefits have to be tangible and the behavior needs to be feasible and within their abilities.”

As plastic production increases and our landfills fill up, can social science help us control our plastic addiction? It’s a social problem. One significant obstacle is that single-use plastic is almost impossible to avoid.

“The consumer often times has little choice to refuse plastic, ” said Trent Hodges, Plastic Pollution Manager for the Surfrider Foundation. “And because it’s so ubiquitous and such a common item, it becomes a force of habit. We go to the grocery store, buy some produce, put it in a plastic bag, walk out.” To break that habit, environmental advocates are turning to social behavior change campaigns.

Models of successful behavior change programs are a familiar part of American culture. The “Click it or Ticket” campaign that began in the 1990s still encourages public seat belt use today. The “Friends don’t let friends drive drunk” campaign has helped to curb impaired driving since the 1980s, and who can forget Smokey the Bear’s timeless credo: “Only you can prevent a forest fire.”

Seas of Plastics drown us

According to Eco Watch, the fossil fuel era must end, or it will spell humanity’s end. The threat isn’t just from pollution and accelerating climate change. Rapid, wasteful exploitation of these valuable resources has also led to a world choked in plastic. Almost all plastics are made from fossil fuels, often by the same companies that produce oil and gas.

Our profligate use of plastics has created swirling masses in ocean gyres. It’s worse than once thought. New research concludes that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is 16 times larger than previously estimated, with 79,000 tonnes of plastic churning through 1.6 million square kilometers of the North Pacific. That’s larger than the area of Quebec—and it continues to grow! Researchers say if we don’t clean up our act, the oceans will have more plastics by weight than fish by 2050.

The Ocean Cleanup Foundation commissioned the study, published in Nature, based on a 2015 expedition using 30 vessels and a C-130 Hercules airplane to look at the eastern part of the patch.

According to a CBC article, researchers estimate that the patch holds 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic, much of it broken down into microplastics less than half a centimeter in diameter. They also found “plastic bottles, containers, packaging straps, lids, ropes and fishing nets,” some dating from the late 1970s and into the ’80s and ’90s, and the large amount of debris from the 2011 tsunami in Fukushima, Japan.

When plastics break down into smaller pieces, they’re more difficult to clean up, and marine animals often ingest the pieces, which is killing them in ever-increasing numbers. Larger pieces can entangle marine animals, and bigger animals often ingest those, too, liquor stores.

The North Pacific patch isn’t unique. Debris accumulates wherever wind and ocean conditions and Earth’s rotation create ocean gyres, including the North Pacific, North Atlantic, South Pacific, South Atlantic and the Indian Ocean.