Phillippi Creek, like all other rivers, streams, lakes, and oceans around the world, is experiencing the widespread problem of plastic pollution. This problem sometimes looks like an empty bottle floating around, but more often than not, it involves tiny pieces of plastic, some too small to see.
The bad news, we ALL contribute to this problem. The good news, there are ways to be better about reducing the obvious and not so obvious sources of plastic we use every day.
Did You Know?
Studies around the world have found plastic in every place they have looked, including the deepest parts of the ocean.
Plastic doesn’t ever disappear. It just breaks up into smaller and smaller pieces. Every piece of plastic that was ever made is still on the Earth today.
Floating plastic can clog stormdrains and lead to flooding.
Birds, fish, and other animals can choke or become entangled in plastic litter.
In water, toxic chemicals are attracted to the surface of tiny plastics, causing high concentrations of toxins on plastics compared to the surrounding water.
Studies have shown that when fish and marine animals eat plastic, these toxins can end up in their tissues. The health risks to people are still unknown.
Florida Microplastic Awareness Project: Plastic in Phillippi Creek
Map of microplastic sampling results from water samples around the state of Florida. Thes results include all types of fibers, not just plastic, 1447 samples from 593 locations, 5/13/17, Credit Florida Microplastics Awareness Project.
How Did We Get Here?
The First Plastic: “Savior of the elephant and the tortoise”
The first synthetic polymer (aka plastic) was made in 1869 by John Wesley Hyatt. He was prompted by a $10,000 offer from Phelan and Collander, the largest billiard company at the time, to anyone who could make a substitute for ivory. The popularity of billiards was growing, and the supply of ivory couldn’t keep up. This new plastic, called celluloid, could be made to look like ivory, tortoiseshell, horn, and linen. For a long time, celluloid was touted as a benefit to the environment, preventing humans from destroying the natural world.
Credit: National Museum of American History, Estate of Catherine Walden Myer
Trade card, Donaldson Brothers, N.Y. Credit: Arrow Collar Collection at the Dowd Modern Graphic History Library
World War II was a huge driver of the plastic industry we have today. Synthetics were cheap and helped the U.S. ramp up production of needed supplies. Nylon was used for parachutes, ropes, and helmet liners. Plexiglass was used for aircraft windows. During this time, plastic production increased by 300%. After the war, the industry shifted to making regular household items, giving people access to an abundance of material possessions they could not previously afford.
Paratroopers from the 1st Allied Airborne over Holland during Operations Market Garden, September 1944. Credit: National Archives
Where Are We Now?
Today, plastic is found in so many of the materials we use including clothing, soaps, makeup, deodorant, toothpaste, and other personal care products. We can find it in our kitchenware, electronics, tools, office supplies, and countless other items. It is so ingrained in our everyday lives that it’s going to take some time to really reduce our plastic footprint, but we can all start somewhere.
Can you refuse, replace, reduce, reuse, or recycle in any of these areas?
Whether you just want to try substituting one item or tackling five in each category, every little bit helps reduce the ever-growing pile of tiny plastic in our local waterways, on our beaches, and in our neighborhoods. Here are some areas to help get you thinking about where you may be able to reduce plastic in your own life.
• Water bottles, soda bottles
• Plastic silverware, plates, cups, bowls
• Cutting boards
• Bags – sandwich, grocery, produce
• Saran wrap
• Coffee cups
• Food and beverages with excess packaging
We all love coffee. An easy place to start is to avoid the single use K cups. Try a French press or bring your own mug to Starbucks. They’ll will refill it for you.
When buying peanut butter, salsa, etc., look for glass jars with wide rims. They can be repurposed into great drinking glasses, vases, or storage for rice, beans, pasta, etc.
Plastic in personal care products can come from both the packaging and the product itself. For example, anything with POLYETHYLENE or POLYPROPYLENE listed in the ingredients contains plastic. Although toothpaste and facial washes can no longer contain plastic microbeads, there are still non rinse-off products like deodorant that do contain plastic. Here are some places where you may be able to consider less plastic intensive substitutes.
Try a wooden or electric toothbrush – only replace the head rather than the whole thing.
Using bar soap for washing hands reduces your plastic use AND lasts longer than a small dispenser of liquid soap.
Around the House
If you’ve already said goodbye to single use plastics, here are some other areas you may want to explore. Remember to think glass, metal, ceramic, wood, cotton, wool, and silk.
• Bed sheets, clothes (avoid polyester, acrylic, nylon)
• Trash cans
• Pet supplies
• Storage containers
Microfibers from clothing and textiles make up 85% of debris on shorelines around the world. The Guppyfriend or the Cora Ball help capture the plastic fibers that come off of clothing, sheets, and towels during a wash.