Published 1 year ago.
About a 4 minute read.
Image: OCG Saving the Ocean
On a practical level, we simply cannot recycle our way out of the damage that plastic waste is doing to our world, our environment and ourselves. That’s why it's time to consider uncycling — or reducing our use of single-use plastics down to zero.
You finish lunch and stand in front of a rainbow-hued collection of trash bins,
each with a specific and clearly labeled purpose. You drop your compostables
into the green one, your plastic into the blue one and whatever’s left into the
brown one. You then hop into the hybrid or electric vehicle of your choice and
drive off with a small sense of satisfaction that you’ve just made the world a
more sustainable place.
But, have you?
The harsh truth is that, whether you put your empty water bottle into the
correct-colored can or just chuck it straight down a storm drain, it’s likely
going to end up in the same place: floating in the ocean with billions of other
bits of plastic
Recycling as a concept is a noble and worthy endeavor; but unfortunately, the
reality has fallen far
of what’s needed to significantly reduce the amount of waste entering our
ecosystem, especially in the case of single-use plastics.
A study released by the Environmental Protection
found that in 2018, just under 9 percent of the 35.7 million tons of consumer
plastic created in the US were recycled into new products. And while that is
a depressingly low number, a second study by Bennington
that it had actually fallen to 5 percent by 2021. Another
by McKinsey, found that approximately five to ten million metric
tons of plastic waste were dumped into the ocean in 2018 — that number grew as
the pandemic caused a surge in demand for single-use plastic
including face masks, gloves, hospital gowns and other related medical equipment.
These numbers make clear that recycling alone will not make a significant dent
in the mountains of waste that are flooding into our oceans, waterways and
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It is not hyperbole to say that the plastic waste filling our oceans represents
a natural disaster — plastic makes up 80 percent of marine
This is not only deadly to sea life — it also breaks down and eventually finds
its way back into our own bodies in the form of
As if that weren’t enough, the manufacturing of plastic bottles is also a major
contributor to climate change — with the production of just four single-use
bottles releasing enough emissions to be the equivalent of driving one mile in
One of the main reasons that recycling falls short is that new or “virgin”
plastic remains cheaper to buy than recycled plastic. Additionally, the trade in
recycled plastic was severely disrupted in 2018 when China — which once
imported half of the world’s recyclable plastic waste — banned its
and several other Southeast Asian countries followed suit.
On a practical level, we simply cannot recycle our way out of the damage that
plastic waste is doing to our world, our environment and ourselves. That’s why
it's time to consider the concept of uncycling — or reducing our use of
single-use plastic products down to zero.
On the individual level, this can feel daunting, considering the scope of the
problem; but there are several ways that we can, within our own lives, actively
contribute to reducing plastic waste.
One of the simplest and most effective solutions is to use a refillable water
instead of a single-use plastic one. The average US consumer drank just over 45
gallons of bottled
in 2020, and the standard plastic water bottle size is 16.9 ounces. That means a
single person switching to a reusable water bottle could save roughly 340
plastic water bottles a year. Expand that number out to a family or even a
community or business, and you can see how just one small shift can reduce the
amount of plastic clogging up our ecosystem by thousands of bottles.
While there is no one miracle solution to protecting our environment, phasing
out our need for single-use plastics — from straws to shopping
to coffee lids — is one of the most powerful steps that we can take as
individuals to end this plastic disaster and build a more sustainable world. By
simply switching from a disposable water bottle to a reusable one, we can make a
real and measurable impact on how much of this non-biodegradable waste pollutes
our most precious resources.
Published Nov 4, 2022 8am EDT / 5am PDT / 12pm GMT / 1pm CET