Photo by Beth Terry.
Kahuku Point, the northern most tip of Oahu, on Coastal Cleanup Day, September, 2013.
Plastic continuously washes ashore from out in the ocean because of the nature of the currents. Cleaning it up is a Sisyphean task.
Could one photo change the course of your life forever? That’s what happened to me six years ago. Back then, I lived like the average American, living on processed foods in plastic packaging, drinking bottled water and tossing the bottles in the trash, and not really considering the consequences.
Oh, I had heard that microwaving in plastic probably wasn’t a good idea, but honestly, I did it anyway because frozen dinners were just so convenient.
And then, one night, sitting alone at my computer, I stumbled across an article about ocean plastic pollution and saw the photo that changed everything for me. In the photo was a baby bird, an albatross chick, on Midway Island, thousands of miles from civilization, that had died with its belly full of plastic. Even now, I tear up a little when I remember first seeing that image.
I learned that mama albatrosses fly many miles across the ocean to gather food for their chicks, but they mistake floating bits of plastic for food and feed that to their babies instead. My maternal instinct kicked in (even though I don’t have kids myself). I had to do something. The plastic inside those birds could have been my plastic. I had to change.
We Are the Albatross
Baby birds are not the only beings that are harmed by ingesting plastic. Many other animals (fish, sea turtles, whales, cows, even camels) have been documented with plastic trash in their bellies, including some of the fish we eat. And since plastic is not biodegradable, all that plastic trash lingers in the environment to create more harm after the animal has died.
But even scarier is the fact that most plastics contain toxic chemical that can leach out of food containers and kitchenware when subjected to stresses like heat or light or rough treatment. Some of these chemicals are hormone-disruptors that can affect our bodies and our children’s development. I’ll explain more about chemicals in plastics in another blog post this week.
Measuring Our Plastic Footprint
Six years ago, I decided to do an experiment to see if I could live without acquiring any new plastic products or packaging. And to figure out what my plastic footprint was, I set a bag under my kitchen table and started collecting all my plastic waste. Since then, I’ve been able to reduce it to about 2% of the national average… by going step by step.
Tomorrow I’ll give my Top 10 Tips for reducing your plastic footprint. But a great way to get started is to take a look at how much plastic we throw away every day. (And by “throw away,” I also mean plastics we toss in the recycling bin.) Check out the Show Your Plastic Challenge on my website for more information and a checklist of questions you can answer to help figure out plastic-free alternatives.
Have you been trying to reduce your plastic footprint? What do you think are the hardest areas to tackle?