– PLASTIC FREE JULY CAMPAIGN
Dr Tariq Jagnarine
BSC, MD, MMed FAM Med, CCFP
We live in a world surrounded by plastic, which plays an integral part in our daily lives. The problem is that much of it is designed to be used over short periods, but plastic can last forever.
Plastic is derived from fossil fuels, making the material a non-renewable and unsustainable resource. In use since 1907, it has become the preferred material for just about everything: from bags, to straws, to food packaging, to water bottles, to wipes, and to diapers. Moreover, all of the plastic that has come into existence over the past century is still on Earth.
Plastic is not biodegradable; it is either down-cycled into new plastic (but only 9 percent of plastic actually gets recycled), or it sits in a landfill emitting methane, or the sun breaks it down into micro plastics. In addition, considering the impact that plastic pollution and drilling for fossil fuels has on the environment, it is very important to focus on reducing plastic use on Earth as much as possible.
While some plastic can be recycled, most of it ends up in landfills or in the ocean, where it takes hundreds of years to break down. Moreover, it has turned out that those ‘biodegradable plastics’ are no better for the environment.
There is now so much plastic in the ocean that it is literally creating garbage patch islands. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is one million square kilometres (386,000 square miles), with the periphery spanning a further 3.5 million square kilometres (1,351,000 square miles), and it continues to grow.
Plastic has a terrible impact on marine life. It finds its way into the stomachs of fish and birds, and now even humans who eat seafood are ingesting small amounts of plastic as a result. Scientists estimate that, by 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans.
PLASTIC AND YOUR HEALTH
A comprehensive 2019 study performed by the Center for International Environment Law and other institutions reveals that plastic is a human health crisis hiding in plain sight. In addition to creating safety problems during production, many chemical additives that give plastic products desirable performance properties also have negative environmental and human health effects.
These effects include:
* Direct toxicity, as in the cases of lead, cadmium, and mercury
* Carcinogens, as in the case of diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP)
* Endocrine disruption, which can lead to cancers, birth defects, immune system suppression, and developmental problems in children
* Polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which can cause cancer, birth defects, genetic changes, chronic bronchitis, ulcers, skin diseases, deafness, vision failure, indigestion, and liver dysfunction
* Foam form matrasses, cushions, pillows can result in bronchitis, coughing, skin and eye problems. It can release toluene diisocyanate, which can produce severe lung problems
* Polystyrene, as seen in food containers, can irritate eyes, noses and throats, and can cause dizziness and unconsciousness. It migrates into food and is stored in body fat. Elevated rates of blood and lymph cancers for workers
Nevertheless, it is not all gloom and doom; there is a growing movement to solve our plastic problem, and everyone can be a part of it.
PLASTIC FREE JULY
Plastic Free July was born in 2011 from a simple idea to refuse single-use plastic during July. In 2017, the campaign’s founder, Rebecca Prince-Ruiz, and a group of people from her local government formed a non-profit called The Plastic Free Foundation, which is the official organisation that runs Plastic Free July. In 2018, a total of 120 million people participated, 90 percent of whom made permanent habit changes beyond July.
The best way to reduce plastic pollution is to refuse, rethink, and reduce what we consume. Taking part in Plastic Free July is an easy way to learn the skills to reduce and avoid the use of plastic.
It is noteworthy that The Rotary Club of Demerara (RCD) was inspired by Rotary International’s move to include ‘Supporting the Environment’ as a new Area of Focus. Plastic places a serious burden on our environment, and single-use plastic exacerbates and expedites the problem. For the first week in July, the Rotary Club of Demerara has challenged members to cut out all single-use plastics from their daily lives. Since Guyana is looking to ban all single-use plastics by 2021, the Club is looking forward to changing the way members use plastic, and to engaging others in meaningful discussion. The Rotary Club of Demerara also encourages members of the public to join the initiative!
TIPS TO REDUCE PLASTIC USE:
Although recycling can help reduce the amount of garbage that ends up in landfills, waterways and ecosystems, only a few types of plastics can be recycled. The fraction that does get recycled still requires a lot of energy and water, which is just not a good proposition when it comes to single-use items. Plastic garbage that ends up in landfills and oceans take hundreds of years to degrade, and there is increasing concern about the toxins they release into the environment. In our modern lives, plastic surrounds us, and cutting it out can seem daunting. Below are some super-easy ways to get started.
* Bring your own reusable cloth bags to the grocery store or any store.
* Avoid buying beverages in plastic bottles; glass is great. Alternatively, carry your own reusable steel or ceramic beverage container. If they are too pricey, use a regular glass mason jar or ceramic cup; it may be heavy, but it is cheap.
* Avoid getting to-go coffee or hot drinks. The drink lids and cups will live on for over 100 years. The lids and lining are plastic. Make your own coffee or tea, or ask for a ceramic reusable cup.
* Go to the daily markets and purchase fresh fruits and vegetables which are not packaged in plastic, and do not buy convenience foods packaged in plastic.
* Make your own homemade bread, or buy bread from bakeries that package their products in paper. If such products are not available, ask for products to be packaged in paper.
* Clean with baking soda and vinegar, instead of cleaners packaged in plastic.
* Buy laundry detergent in boxes, not liquid in plastic containers.
* Buy farm fresh eggs in reusable paper containers.
* Buy your meat from the local butchers’ shops, and have it wrapped in paper.
* Package your leftovers in glass or ceramic kitchenware.
* It is a bit unusual, but we can bring our own containers to restaurants in order to package leftovers.
* Do not use air fresheners; light a candle or incense instead.
* Store all your food in glass containers. If you purchase something bottled in glass, clean the glass container and reuse it.
* Buy bulk cereal, tortilla, coffee, and milk; peanut butter that is packaged in cartons, paper bags or bottles.
* Compost trash; reduce the use of plastic trash bags. In addition, line small trash bins in your house with paper bags.
* Avoid the use of straws when ordering drinks.
* Buy toilet paper that is wrapped in paper, not plastic.
* Do not use Ziploc. Use aluminium or waxy paper.
* Use cloth rags to clean up around the house. Do not use paper towels, since you want to reduce trash and the need for trash bags.
* Use matches instead of plastic-encased lighters.
* Use cloth napkins. They feel nice, and reduce your waste and use of plastic trash bags.
* Take your own bag to stores, and avoid collecting more bags. “No bag needed, thanks”, or “Paper, not plastic”
* Put empty cardboard boxes in your car to be utilised in transporting heavy items to and from your car without a bag.
* Do not use plastic cutting boards. Use wood or glass instead.
* Use baby bottles that are made of glass, and sipping cups made of stainless steel for kids.
* Use cloth-based toys for your pets, like catnip mice and soft squishy balls.
* Use junk mail and other paper to stuff into big packages to ship, instead of bubble wrap or air-filled plastic.
* Use rechargeable batteries to reduce buying batteries packaged in plastic.
* Make a compost heap to reduce your food waste, and put it back into the earth.
We all fall victim to the conveniences of plastic, such as bottled water at a picnic, plastic-wrapped snacks on the go, plastic cutlery with takeout food. Unfortunately, our temporary convenience is our planet’s long-term burden. There are 9.2 billion tons of plastic on Planet Earth today, and more than half of that amount exists as waste. In fact, less than one-fifth of all plastic gets recycled globally, and in the USA, it is less than 10%.
A large amount of unrecycled plastic gets collected in our oceans, where it breaks down into tiny particles that may or may not biodegrade, putting our marine life at risk. Fortunately, there are several plastic-free alternatives that are much kinder to our planet. Every day, through each small choice we make, we can reduce our plastic use. Plastic is pervasive in building and construction materials; industrial machinery; our cars, electronics, clothing, housewares, and packaging; and we have the power to change that through our buying decisions.