Single-use plastic: LESS than fantastic!

Has your favorite local restaurant discontinued the use of plastic straws? Are you carrying a reuseable straw with you now instead?

Plastic straws are an example of something used one time and then thrown away. Plastic take-out containers, shopping bags, spoons, forks, cups, and lids are also made to be used once and then tossed into the trash. All of these disposable items are called “single-use plastics” because they are made of plastic and only used once. In today’s world, there are many things we use just once. However, some of them break down easily in nature or can be composted or recycled. Plastic straws cannot do any of these. For this reason, they are representative of all of the plastics that people have grown used to using once and throwing away.

Here are the problem issues with single-use plastics:
• Plastic straws and other small, light-weight single-use plastic items are usually too small or too difficult to be recycled, so they end up in landfills.
• Because of their weight and size, plastic straws are often littered or can get blown around easily and find their way into nature. One study reported that about 8.3 billion plastic straws pollute the world’s beaches.
• Plastics do not break down easily or biodegrade. Almost all of the plastic ever made still exists.
• Birds, fish, and other animals often mistake plastic items for food, which can cause them to get sick or die.
• Plastic straws are often not really necessary!

It’s hard to picture that something as small as a straw would be a big deal. A school bus is much larger than a straw. Imagine 125 school buses lined up. This line would be over a mile long. Now picture the inside of all of those buses completely stuffed with plastic straws. This is how many plastic straws Americans use in just one day, about 500 million. Now that many straws can cause a problem!

The good news is we can all help. All we have to do is remember that it is better to refuse, reduce, reuse, and recycle than to use something once and then throw it away. You can help by remembering to make simple changes each day. And just as lots of small straws can add up to be a big problem, lots of us working together can make an impact on plastic waste. Start with a goal of changing one plastic habit per week or month and then add new changes throughout the year. Talk to your friends and family about making these changes too!

Here is how to be part of the solution:
• Just say “No, thank you,” to plastic straws or stir sticks. If you really like using straws, buy a reusable straw and carry it with you.
• Instead of plastic shopping bags, use reusable shopping bags.
• Try to use fewer disposable items. At fast food restaurants, take a refillable water bottle or cup and use it instead of throwaway cup. When buying fruits or vegetables at the store, use reusable bags or consider not using bags at all.
• Make your own take-out kit. You can carry your own reusable containers instead of asking for single-use carry-out containers and serving ware.

After you have refused and reused all that you can, please recycle all the plastic that is recyclable in your community. Unfortunately, plastic straws, forks, spoons, cup lids, loose bottle caps, and other small single-use plastic items are not included in most recycling programs. To learn more about which items are accepted for recycling in your area, visit the website for your local solid waste management district or search online for local recycling centers and the materials they accept.

Photo: NoDerog | iStock | Getty Images Plus

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