By Mya Oyler
The Pacific Ocean, once filled with marine life and clear water, is now overtaken by a garbage patch twice the size of Texas. It weighs an outstanding total of 80,000 tonnes which is equivalent to the weight of 500 commercial jets.
Within this mass, there are roughly 3.6 trillion pieces of trash with 1.8 trillion of these being various types of plastics. This would average out to 250 pieces of plastic for every human on Earth.
Humans’ crippling dependence on plastic has overtaken not only our everyday lives, but also our beaches, oceans, and cities. Plastic takes roughly 1000 years to decompose, meaning it will remain on Earth long after us.
Animas High School juniors are taking a deeper look at plastic waste by learning about the journey our waste goes through. Chemistry teacher Steve Smith said, “I hope [my students] want to create a large scale exhibition where people come and learn about the single-use materials (mainly plastics) in their lives and where all of that ends up.”
Although some types of plastic are recyclable, only 20% of that is actually recycled. The majority of it ultimately ends up being discarded because of contamination.
Steve explained, “Aluminum, for example, is very easy to break down back into its original components which is why it's mostly recycled. Plastic is not as easy to break down into its original pieces so it is less likely to be recycled even if it is put in the recycling bin.”
The types of plastic that are not recyclable are often single-use plastics. This includes plastic grocery bags, plastic straws, food packaging, and plastic lids. Alongside these single-use materials, there are single-use recyclable plastics that are often not recycled like plastic water bottles and plastic coffee cups.
These items have become incredibly convenient for us and we are highly dependent on them for the ease of our day. I encourage you to look at your own consumption of these items and try to switch these out for more eco-
Instead of flimsy plastic bags at the store, buy a few cloth bags that can be kept in your car and used at any time. Instead of a single-use plastic bottle, buy a reusable water bottle that you can bring with you everywhere and refill it when you’re thirsty. This will actually be cheaper over time because you’re not constantly having to buy water. On average, an individual American will spend $100 per year on plastic water bottles which could so easily be cut.
Instead of your plastic coffee cup, lid, and straw, invest in a portable mug. This one comes with a few added benefits: One being they often keep your drink hot or cold for longer. You can also save money in the long run. A lot of coffee shops even offer a discount for having your own cup.
One of the hardest things to combat is food packaging waste. This one is often out of our control as our favorite foods have already been wrapped in plastic. Although this one is not always as easy, try to buy from sustainable sources, take advantage of bulk foods and go to a farmers’ market.
As our world is facing catastrophic changes, it is important that we reflect upon our own actions so we can preserve the beauty of our earth. Steve expressed, “Climate change is one of the most, if not the most pressing issue of our time and it will continue to be so. I can't control this directly unless I can afford to put solar panels on my roof. But, I can decide not to use single-use plastics and make more conscious decisions of where I buy my food from.”
If we all begin to make these small seemingly insignificant decisions, our Earth will greatly benefit and be sustained for generations to come.