Why is Plastic a Problem?

Why is Plastic a Problem?

The answer to the question, why is plastic a problem, is simple: The world has become a plastic dumping ground. Plastic is pervasive such that we hardly pay attention. We do this to the detriment of our planet and our lives. By 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. Plastic is in marine and wildlife around the world. It is also in us.

There are so many great uses for plastic, but we are addicted – especially to single-use plastic. How did this happen?

Plastic was invented in 1907. Single-use plastics started in 1959 with the creation of the plastic bag. Then came the creation of the plastic bottle (for water and soda) in 1973. The convenience plastic afforded, plus lower production and shipping costs increased company profits. Companies could create products with no responsibility for the waste. Today our single-use plastic stats are astonishing and growing. The ‘use and toss’ plastic habit is rampant.


The world produces over 380 million tons of plastic per year! Of this, 50% is for single-use plastic. 
  • 500 billion plastic water bottles a year (> 1 million a day)
  • 500 billion plastic cups per year
  • 500 million straws per year
  • Plus an incredible amount of plastic packing waste
Single Use Plastic
By now, you may be thinking, this is not a problem as you recycle plastic. Well, not true. Less than 10% of plastic is recycled. 

Why isn’t plastic recycled? We created a product that does not decompose or regenerate. Plastic is created from petroleum. During the production process, CO2 is released into the air. Chemicals are added to produce products for wonderful uses, such as medical devices and wasteful single-use products. Remember that 50% of the plastic created is used for single-use products and tossed away in minutes. After use, those single-use plastic products head to landfills and into waterways. In landfills, a small amount of plastic is incinerated, emitting chemicals into the atmosphere. Most of the plastic remains in the landfill forever.  

Every plastic toothbrush you have ever used is still here.

But what about those recycle labels on plastic?

It is easy to be confused as the label on plastic looks like a recycle symbol with a number. This symbol indicates the type of plastic. Only categories 1 and 2 are candidates for recycling. Of the plastic in categories 1 and 2, only 29-30% gets recycled while others cannot be recycled. While you put plastics into the blue recycling bin, over 90% still goes to the landfill.

Plastic Recycle Symbols
We are creating an overwhelming amount of plastic waste. 

Our oceans are getting clogged with single-use plastic products and also microplastics. Plastics don’t break down, they break up into small pieces called microplastics. In the last 60 years, our use of plastic has resulted in microplastics just about everywhere. Microplastics end up in the waterways, are eaten by wildlife, and have made it inside our bodies. At this time, we do not know the effects of long-term exposure to plastics and the chemicals used in processing them.

These stats tell a sobering story about plastic pollution:
  • 13.9 million tons of plastic are going into our oceans every year (#1)
  • More than a garbage truckload of plastic goes into our ocean every minute (#2)
  • It’s estimated that over 165 million tons of plastic are in the oceans (#1)
  • 90 percent of seabirds are likely to have plastic in their guts (#1)
  • Humans eat over 40 pounds of plastic in a lifetime (#2)
  • Plastic microfibers from washing our clothes are going into our waterways.
  • There will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050 (#1)
We need to take action and reduce our plastic usage to protect our oceans, our wildlife, and people. 

While we need to look for more ways to recycle and to remove as much plastic as possible from our oceans, it is not enough. No waste and recycling system in the world can handle the plastic waste we are creating.

What can you do? 

People around the world are reducing their plastic usage. One good source is the book, How to Give Up Plastic by Will McCallum. We firmly agree with McCallum that, “Every victory against plastic begins with a single person or small group.” Now we know that plastic is choking our planet and harming our lives. It makes sense to take action. People are going plastic-free.

Begin with small changes to reduce your plastic footprint.  Then move on to refusing plastic whenever possible. Start by buying and using reusable items. Support cities and local communities banning single-use plastic. Tell everyone you know what you now know and ask them to join in.

No change is too small. Here are two joyful changes that make a measurable difference.
  1. The average American uses 365 plastic bags per year. Make the change to reusable bags.
  2. The average American uses 13 plastic bottles per month. Make the change to a reusable water bottle. 

Making just these two joyful changes will reduce plastic by 365 bags and 156 water bottles a year! Imagine how that reduction adds up as more people like you make the same habit change.

Individual actions make a difference. Everything starts small and grows into a wave that makes a difference. Our wonderful planet and our lives are worth it.  Join the people around the world in reducing plastic. Please share your plastic-free stories with us!

#plasticfreejuly #breakfreefromplastic @one_planet_life


#1 How to Give Up Plastic By Will McCallum
#2 plasticoceans.org
#3 breakfreefromplastic.org
#4 nationalgeographic.org/article/whopping-91-percent-plastic-isnt-recycled/

Simple Habit Change Results in Two Big Wins

Simple Habit Change Results in Two Big Wins

You regularly hear that change is hard. Well, it can be but it can also be easier than you think. 

Over the past few years, I’ve made a simple habit change that resulted in big wins for me and the planet.  That made it a simple and joyful change —  a double win!

Most of us have come to acknowledge that many of our well-intentioned, learned habits are having a measurable and negative impact on our planet. As our lives have become increasingly busier, we have adopted habits that appeal to our desire for convenience and personalization, without considering the dark side of the new habit.

Take, for example, bottled water. Access to good drinking water is an important issue. The low cost and portability of PET bottled water is the reason bottled water consumption has grown from 50 billion bottles per year in 2003 to more than 480 billion bottles sold in 2016.

It’s anticipated single use plastic water bottle consumption will grow another 20% in 2021.  

Okay, makes sense, right, since most of us are choosing to drink water over a carbonated, sugary beverage. Water is a much better beverage choice and single-use bottled water is easy, inexpensive, and portable.  What’s the problem?


Plastic Bottles in Garbage

Once the spring, mineral, purified, or distilled water is consumed, where does the single-use plastic bottle go?  Most of our plastic water bottles end up in our landfills and oceans.  We are learning now, too, that micro-plastic from our PET water bottles are ending up in our bodies. Are we becoming walking, talking water bottles?

This leads to my joyful habit change: replaced single-use plastic bottles with reusable bottles.

My family and I love boating and lake life.  We have owned a lake cabin and boat for 20 years and spend as many weekends as possible out on the lake.  Like most families, we’d stop at the grocery store and pick up a 24-pack or two of bottled water to last us through the weekend. At the end of each boating day, we’d gather all of the spent and barely used plastic water bottles (those that didn’t accidentally fly overboard into the lake) and throw them away.  Overtime, as we learned more about plastic pollution and its impact on climate change, we got better at separating the plastic water bottles from the rest of the trash and bagged them for recycling.  We felt good about that change.  But seeing the volume of our plastic trash did make us feel a bit guilty.


A couple of years ago, we purchased eight reusable and insulated water bottles that matched the colors of our boat — a nice addition.  
Reusable Bottles

Each weekend, instead of buying 24-48 single-use plastic bottles of water, we fill our insulated bottles with filtered water from our kitchen and enjoy them on the boat. We bring extra water in a gallon container to refill the bottles, if needed. The water tastes good and stays cold. No more wasting money on bottles of water barely consumed or trying to figure out whose water is whose. The amount of trash to remove from the boat has significantly decreased and we no longer haul a bunch of plastic trash to our city home for recycling.

I estimate that we consumed 1,000 to 1,200 PET plastic bottles of water each boating season.  When you multiply that by 20 years, it totals as much as 24,000 plastic water bottles! 

As a result of this simple and joyful habit change, we have reduced our contribution to plastic pollution by 3,600 single-use plastic bottles over the past three summers alone and we are only one family.  Also, as a mother I have lowered my frustration level over wasted money, barely consumed water bottles, and wrangling trash pick up after a long day of boating.

Simple changes by each of us can make a big difference especially when added together with others making the same change.  

If 10 more families made the switch to reusable bottles, we’d use 36,000 less single-use plastic bottles.  If 100 did the same, it would total 360,000.  If 1,000 families made the habit change, the reduction would total 3.6 million less plastic water bottles consumed.

What habit will you change to make a difference for you and the planet?

Amy Bates

OPL Chief Marketing Officer Amy Bates shares her experience in making simple habit changes to improve quality of life and protect the planet.

Learn more about Amy here.

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