We live in a plastic world, and I don’t mean superficially. We are literally surrounded by plastic and, whatever we dump into the ground and the oceans, we get back—with interest. Microplastic is invading everything—the crops and produce we eat, the livestock that feeds on them, the seafood we eat and now, even the salt we get from the sea. Whatever we are poisoning the earth with is, in turn, poisoning us. And what microplastics can do to us and our future generations is a wait-and-watch, but we are sure that it isn’t going to be pretty!
Why Is Plastic Bad?
Plastic simply doesn’t die—long after we are dead and gone, the straws we use to drink our coffees and colas with will haunt our future generations for hundreds of years. Big creatures in the sea like whales and sharks are dying because they end up eating plastic—their stomachs nothing more than giant trash cans, a big testament to our fallacies. Plastic doesn’t erode, it doesn’t degrade into anything useful—it doesn’t do any good to any species on this planet, except hold some convenience to us and the retail industry. But what we sow, so shall we reap. If our blithering, ignorant use of plastic goes on, we are sealing our own grisly fate with it.
When plastic does break down, it breaks down into tiny microplastic particles—small enough to enter the food chain and ultimately the human bloodstream. It bodes ill for the future where it is thought that if we continue rampantly throwing our plastic waste into the sea, by 2050 there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish.
So we have waxed eloquent about how bad plastic is. Frankly, we haven’t even skimmed the surface off the plastic pollution monster we are facing. By now there are videos on Facebook which talk about how great it would be had we never invented plastic. The threat is there, and more and more people are realizing it. And that’s a good thing—because it makes us proactive about a problem.
What Can Individuals & Families Do?
On an individual, family-led basis, what is it that we can do from our end to stop the spread of plastic as well as microplastic pollution? Honestly, it’s as simple as the three Rs—reduce, reuse, and recycle. As much as it holds true for paper (the trees), metal (the plight of mining workers), and glass (the dangers that glass industry workers face), it holds even more grim truth for plastic. More than the three Rs, it has to be the 4Rs now—Reduce, Restore, Reuse, Recycle and Restore.
Reduce The Use Of Plastic
The word reduce is self-explanatory. You reduce the use of plastic, buy less of it, have less of it to reuse or recycle—and in doing so, reduce your carbon footprint as well. Here are some ideas.
- Invest in some good, sturdy cloth-based reusable shopping bags. This will reduce your need to take plastic bags from stores.
- Support stores that are trying to go plastic-free. Make sure you come armed with your own bags and boxes to take all the groceries and produce home.
- Avoid plastic-wrapped produce. A single boiled egg in plastic is a bad idea—buy raw eggs that come in a cardboard box and boil them yourself. Fruits don’t need a plastic wrap, they have peels. Go to a farmer’s market and get your produce from there, and carry those cloth bags with you.
- Support restaurants that give you take out in plastic-free boxes—and check for the recycling tag even then.
- Carry your own bottle of water. Plastic bottles are a very big cause of concern. Carrying your own drinking water in a reusable steel bottle works best.
- Carry cutlery and straws with you. Every time you go to a coffee place or get a cola, you get plastic straws. These plastic straws are choking the oceans, as is disposable plastic cutlery. We dispose of them in landfills and seas—polluting the earth and the water around us. Carry wood or steel cutlery with you, and a bamboo or steel reusable straw. The Earth will thank you.
- Stop buying plastic wrap. We shred it too small and hardly any of us recycle it, though we can. Use paper, and more importantly cloth instead.
- Invest in steel and glass utensils and storage boxes. Our kitchen is often a big culprit in the overuse of plastics. From fridge bottles to microwave-friendly plastic, and from spice racks to kitchen storage—we have to stop thinking plastic. Make it steel, ceramic, earthenware, woodenware, and even glassware—but stop buying any more plastic. BPA free may be okay for your health, and yes, it is recyclable, but there’s a ton of recyclable waste floating in the oceans as well.
- Go fresh with produce. Plastic is a huge part of the packaging industry because it keeps food artificially fresh for days on end. Try going fresh with produce—become a backyard grower or head to the farmer’s market. Avoid buying exotic produce as the packaging is pure plastic for it all. Make a conscious effort to avoid the ease that comes with plastic. It’s easier to buy peeled oranges instead of fresh produce. It’s easier to avoid looking at the non-recyclable plastic your grocer uses. It’s easier to look away. Our request to you: don’t!
- Say no to microbeads in your cosmetics. All those face scrubs, body washes, and even toothpaste that promise you a cleaner, brighter visage with the help of microbeads are further polluting the environment. They use microplastic beads to do the job that even salt or sugar can do at home—nature offers you plenty of natural abrasives. Stick to natural DIY beauty scrubs you can make at home.
Restore To What It Was Before The Plastic
Now, what does restore mean? It means to bring back something to its original state. So how can you do that? You cannot chuck your job and start deep-sea diving off the coast of Fiji to clean the plastic away. But you can tackle the surroundings and the area you are in. And honestly, it doesn’t take all that much effort. Here are a few gentle suggestions:
- Every time you visit the beach or any other place, pick up three pieces of plastic and deposit them in the correct recycle bin. We went to Goa for our vacation this year, and the beautiful beach was despoiled by trash—empty crisp packets, chocolate wrappers, water bottles, beer cans, broken glass, and torn fishing nets. You name the trash and the high tide brought it in every afternoon. So we each picked up three pieces of plastic every day. There were four of us, which means we made a difference of 12 pieces every day, for 10 days. Now multiply this by the millions of humans around the world. Doesn’t seem so insurmountable, does it?
- Most nurseries plant seedlings and saplings in various kinds of plastic because it’s easy for the customer to carry and transplant. How about you give them a different suggestion? Small earthen pots do the tricks just as well, and you can literally plant the earthen pot in the ground—it will degrade soon enough. Another cool idea is to use coconut shells (especially raw coconut shells) to plant the saplings. Again, the coconut shells will degrade into food for the plants.
- Compost your waste. There’s no point in sending your very usable trash to landfills. When landfills become too full, they often look for other indiscrete methods of waste disposal, thus the trash in the oceans. Compost all your food waste and you will see your trash halved. Recycle everything else and you may soon be trash-free. Almost!
Deciphering Plastic Codes
The plastic that we use usually comes embossed with a number inside a triangle with some lettering in it. Each number identifies a certain kind of plastic, whether or not it can be recycled, and more such information. However, even the numbering is not a guarantee of a plastic’s toxicity, safety, or recyclability—so use it all with caution.
- Number 1 (PET): Single-use plastic, can be recycled easily into a lot but repeated use can leach toxins.
- Number 2 (HDPE): Used in food and packaging industry, can be recycled and has a low risk of leaching.
- Number 3 (PVC): Used for non-food packaging and construction materials, rarely recycled and can leach toxins when heated.
- Number 4 (LDPE): Not used much for food, and rarely accepted for recycling.
- Number 5 (PP): It can accept high and low temperatures without leaching and is what straws are made out of—the good thing is it can be recycled.
- Number 6 (PS): Think Styrofoam—it’s toxic and slowly being accepted into recycling more.
- Number 7 (Misc.): Every other plastic is clumped in number 7—some are actually compostable but some leach dangerous chemicals! Be wary, for these are rarely recycled.
You can read more about this here, or scare yourself silly here!
Reuse The Plastic You Have Lying Around
First things first: we would not advise you to reuse plastic when it comes to storing water or food, or during cooking. But there are plenty of other things you can do with plastic…
- Use the bases of any big plastic bottles as planters. All you need to do is cut the base off from big bottles and add in some potting soil. Put in your little seedlings or saplings and spray some water when needed. This will make for great window ledge greenery, and you can reuse the plastic pot for a long, long time to come!
- You can also turn the whole bottle into self-watering plants for a kitchen shelf herb garden. Cut each bottle into two halves—the top half with the cap being a little shorter than the bottom. Now make a little hole in the cap of the bottle (still screwed firmly on) and pass in a thick cotton thread so that it hangs 5-6 cm from the cap, with plenty spooled in within the bottle half. Invert the top half and add in potting soil and the herb or foliage you want to plant in it. Fill the bottom half with water and place the inverted top half over it, with the thread immersed in water. It’s a great self-watering plant that needs just a little sunlight and only a water fill when it gets empty.
- The top halves of big plastic containers with handles make for a good sand or dirt scoop. All you have to do is cut the bottle in half, and the part with the handle becomes the scoop while the bottom half can again become a planter.
- You can cut out a bottle with a loop that hangs on a plug to make a great hanging mobile charger.
- Old cola or soda bottles can be used to make a vertical wall garden as well.
- Poke holes into an empty cola bottle and fix it onto a pipe to make a water sprinkler that can last all summer.
- Other cutesy bottles (like the honey bear one) can be turned into lamps and night lights. All you have to do is cut away the nozzle and leave the top half of the cap open (to let any heat escape). And then cut the base of the bottle as well. Three coats of spray paint of any color should do it. And then you simply put in a low-watt LED or CFL light onto a base holder and put the bottle on top. Cute enough for a kid’s bedroom.
Frankly, all you have to do is search for plastic craft or reuse on Google, and there will be hundreds of ideas that can help you reuse the plastic at home—inculding a recent one where you can make a waterproof pouch with plastic bags pressed together. All the plastic you have at home can be recycled, but you can surely reuse it attractively before binning it.
Recycle All That Is Left With Care
While we’d all love to recycle the plastic we have at home, it takes machines and knowhow to do it—especially since a lot of the plastic tends to give out toxic fumes when it’s heated or melted or otherwise chemically treated. Of course, there are a few companies that do give even recycling a lovely twist: ecoBirdy, for example, turns old and broken toys into beautiful kids furniture. And there are innovations happening in every corner of the world—there are people turning plastic waste into homes for the financially challenged as well.
Buying secondhand and recycling all that we can makes us sustainable on the whole and ends up saving the planet as well. When it comes to us, what we all need to do at home is make a sorting bin. Remember, only the non-recyclable items go to trash. Everything else has to be recycled into glass, metal, plastic, paper, and even compost worthy. Make this a house rule: everyone has to follow it.
The Power Of Working Together
If we all pledge to do these things, the world may not be plastic-free overnight, or even in our lifespan, but it shall certainly begin to breathe a little easier. Support NGOs and charities working to clean the oceans, volunteer to go on beach-cleaning runs, and be your neighborhood’s recycling superhero. The Earth needs our help more than ever; we have to sustain the planet that sustains us, right?
If you know of any more tips and tricks, or an innovation we could use at home to reduce plastic waste, please do write into us in the comments section below. And remember, reign in the plastic before it chokes us all!