Let’s Talk About Single Use Plastics.

In honor of #plasticfreejuly, we want to bring awareness to single use plastics. Packaging, cutlery, grocery bags, food containers, coffee cups, straws, water bottles, disposables.

Convenience.

Single use plastics were created for convenience, for keeping things separate and “fresh,” for allowing customers to grab & go, and easily tossing waste instead of washing a mug or dish. When did all of this become so normal? So normal, as to risk toxic pollution in neighborhoods surrounding landfills, or manufacturing plants? To allow for our waste to sit on this planet for the next 500 years, clogging the pores of the Earth and ocean?

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These plastics are cheap to produce, and in demand for our convenience and busy schedules. They are made from ethane and propane (later ethylene, polyethylene, and polypropylene) at a dehydrogenation plant. Ethane and propane are derived from fossil fuels, and therefore have potential to leak natural gas liquids back into the environment, polluting the surrounding ecology even before a plastic item is even made.

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Production of plastics due to a boom in the US natural gas access is set to increase by half in the next 10 years. On top of that, added chemicals such as flame retardants, toxic coloring, and much more are set to increase with the production. The ramifications for all species living near and around these manufacturing facilities are in danger of losing their habitats, food, and water sources. This goes for human populations too.

Environmental justice groups have proven that minority populations live in communities that are targeted for landfill and factory sites (look up ‘cancer alley’ for more reading on environmental justice). Meanwhile, their affluent counterparts on the other side of town are free from harmful leaked chemicals, overwhelming smells, and uncontrollable litter. Not only does the plastic industry physically harm people, the planet, and other species, but it contributes to institutionalized racism, especially in the United States.

At least there's some good news-social movements across the globe have realized the impact of plastic pollution and are moving to a zero waste lifestyle, reducing their plastic use, introducing straw bans, and offering “for here” mugs. While not all problems of plastic production can be solved using these methods, it is a huge leap past the starting line.

In order for these movements to continue and grow, plastic bans need to be rooted in our culture. We need to revert to a biocentric code of ethics for businesses and individuals. We need to start local, in order to be global.

Annabelle Shumann