Plastic, a convenient material we come into contact with nearly nonstop and in every context, is actually the bane of our existence. From the trash it creates, carbon emissions and burning it to the microplastics found in our seas and animals, the negative effects of this product we use for convenience are endless, literally.
A quote from Greenpeace states that, “Because plastic lasts for so long, every single piece of plastic ever made still exists and will continue existing for at least 500 years.” The conservation organization uses the example that if “Leonardo da Vinci had drunk water from a plastic bottle when he was painting the Mona Lisa, that bottle would not have fully decomposed yet.” But even this example is moderate, considering many plastic products take hundreds of years to break down. That is unless they are burned, in which case, they emit greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, even more detrimental to the planet.
The thought of just how much plastic we consume and where it goes can be extremely overwhelming, to say the least, but in the same regard, we must be informed of the consequences of the choices we make for convenience, acknowledge the effects it is having on humanity and the environment and when possible, opt for other solutions.
Let me share some quick unfun facts.
In the 1950s, the world produced around 1.5 million tons of plastic annually. By 2020, that number had risen to over 368 million tons annually.
Some 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic have been produced to date, and approximately 60% of that has ended up in landfills or the natural environment.
It’s estimated that less than 10% of plastic waste is recycled.
Millions of tons of plastic end up in the oceans every year. This plastic pollution harms marine life, as animals can ingest or become entangled in plastic debris.
Plastic breaks down into tiny particles known as microplastics, which are less than 5 millimeters in size.
Plastic particles have been found in various organisms throughout the food chain, including plankton, fish, birds and even humans.
“There are no problems, only solutions,” said John Lennon who envisioned a world without borders and a brotherhood of man. I believe he'd be turning in his grave right now and it's probably surrounded by plastic. There’s no denying that plastic is an integral part of our lives and the consequences of this fact and that it may be impossible to turn back in time and rectify the damage it has caused can be so overwhelming it makes one want to give up. But the speed and immense amounts of plastic being produced and utilized is something that we, as individuals, can actually change. Some simple solutions can be applied to our everyday lives that limit the amount of plastic we use. And trust me, not only will it help the planet, the animals and our own health, but it just makes good sense and thus will feel good.
Use reusable bottles for water: Use a glass water bottle that you can refill rather than purchasing single-use PET water bottles that take an estimated 450 years to disintegrate. I understand the joy of buying a cold bottle of water from a market on a hot day, but an easy solution, in this case, is to fill and place a reusable water bottle in your freezer, which will remain icy cold for a few hours when outdoors.
Fill your water from fountains: Every village in Türkiye has a fountain, referred to as a “çeşme,” which is usually built as a donation by the bereaved. These are for public use and generally have natural mountain spring water that flows from them. Most rural residents will collect a number of 5-liter plastic bottles and fill them from fountains for their consumption at home.
Gift plastic when you can: If you happen to have 5-liter bottles or even smaller ones and don’t plan on refilling them yourself, then why not ask the local market or vendors at farmers’ markets whether they could use your plastic bottles for repurposing rather than just throwing them out. Many Turkish households prepare olive oil, vinegar and milk and need vessels to store them in. In other words: share the love, or in this case, plastic. It’s a win-win!
Reuse plastic: It’s now universally known that using and, in many cases, even purchasing plastic bags is not environmentally friendly. Therefore, many have already jumped on the bandwagon of bringing their own shopping bags to markets. Yet, there are many occasions when we still end up with plastic bags and no purpose for them. I personally separate those bags into categories and try to reuse them as much as possible. For instance, recently, I brought all the thin plastic bags I had collected from produce purchases and gifted them to my local greengrocer, who was thrilled because purchasing plastic bags is an extra cost they would choose to avoid.
Refuse plastic: There are so many occasions in which plastic is just a part of life and many of us are simply unaware of how we can avoid it. But the thing is, a lot of plastic items are entirely unnecessary. For example, we can refuse to use a plastic straw or drink from a glass. We can also decline the small bags handed over at pharmacies and, instead, place the medicine we purchase directly into our bags. All it takes is being mindful whenever a plastic item is extended to us and really considering whether accepting it is necessary.
Pay heed to packaging: The biggest culprit to the immense amount of plastic produced is single-use items. This means the more you buy in bulk, the less plastic you get with your purchase. When given the choice of which product to purchase, make the amount of plastic involved in its packaging a deciding factor. Shop at farmers’ markets, bring your own bags and buy loose teas to brew so you are not ingesting microplastics.
The bottom line is just to be mindful of what you purchase and consume regarding plastic. And to end on a shallow but highly shocking note: A recent study from McGill University shows that just one plastic tea bag can release 11.6 billion microplastics into a single cup of tea.