April 22, annually, is known around the world as
This year, Travel For Change is highlighting an often overlooked issue.
Every day, the urban city centres are bustling with people. People are out enjoying a coffee, a take-away meal, working, shopping, exploring.
There is one major theme that all cities have in common; their rubbish.
Many major cities have a plastic waste problem. Furthermore, general household waste, chemical and toxic industrial waste and waste from agricultural farms wash off into local waterways.
“Which cities have the worst waste problem also depends on how they dispose of it. Without the infrastructure to collect garbage, it’s dumped in rivers, canals and streets, and the result is unsanitary chaos”. - The Guardian 2016
The Problem With Single-Use Plastic
The average American produces the following pounds of trash every year:
38 pounds of newspapers
48 pounds of books
25 pounds of office papers
22 pounds of paper plates or cups
28 pounds of aluminium beer and soda cans
77 pounds of plastic bottles and jars
90 pounds of tossed-out clothes and shoes
77 pounds of cardboard boxes
And of course, there’s much more. Plus, it is not just America. On a worldwide scale, we produce 2.6 trillion pounds of trash per year.
According to the World Bank - “with rapid population growth and urbanization, annual waste generation is expected to increase by 70% from 2016 levels to 3.40 billion tonnes in 2050”.
There is a common misconception that plastic waste from our cities magically goes away, gets recycled, or simply disappears. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
The story of what happens to our waste and where it ends up is a complex one.
Unfortunately, much of the waste created in the city centre will make its way to the ocean.
Yes, that’s right; even if you live far away from the beach, your household waste could still be making it to the sea.
In low-income countries, over 90% of waste is often disposed of in unregulated dumps or openly burned. These practices create serious health, safety, and environmental consequences.
Where Does The Plastic Come From?
Eight million tonnes of plastic enter the ocean every year, and 80% of the plastic in the ocean is from land sources.
This happens in three ways: landfill, littering, and plastic washing down the drain.
When plastic goes in the bin, it ends up in a landfill instead of being recycled.
Plastic is generally super lightweight, so on its journey to the landfill, it can often be blown around and end up in drains and rivers, which transport it to the ocean.
Litter that gets thrown on the street does not stay in one place, and nor does it just disappear.
Water and wind carry that plastic through drains and into rivers and streams, all of which lead to the ocean!
Fly-tipping (illegal deposit of any waste on to land that does not have a licence to accept it) and illegal dumping is a significant contributor too.
Plastic can also get to the oceans from the products that we put down our drains.
Wet wipes, cotton buds, and sanitary products are just a few examples of things that people actively flush down the toilet every day.
There’s also microbeads in cosmetics and cleaning products that get washed down drains. On top of this, each time we do laundry, tiny microfibres are released into waterways. These tiny fibres are too small to be filtered out by water plants and end up in the ocean.
Why Is This A Problem?
Plastic has been found on shorelines of each of the earth’s seven continents.
More plastic materials are found near popular destinations and areas that are densely populated. Once plastic gets to the ocean, it decomposes very slowly.
Over time, the plastic breaks down into smaller fragments called microplastics which can be highly damaging to sea life.
Microplastic and microfibres from fabrics are consumed by marine species and found in commercial fish that humans consume.
Birds are particularly susceptible to plastic ingestion. Some estimates say that over 90% of all seabirds have ingested plastic at some point. Also, seabirds’ nests can contain plastic or even be built entirely from it.
Poorly managed waste serves as a breeding ground for disease vectors and contributes to global climate change through methane generation.
What Can You Do?
Suppose human plastic waste management doesn’t improve. In that case, scientists predict that the amount of plastic entering the ocean each year could increase tenfold by 2025.
However, positive steps are being taken. For example, some governments have banned microbeads in rinse-off cosmetics and cleaning products, so the tiny plastic beads no longer get washed down the sink and into the oceans.
Try shopping for eco-friendly or earth-friendly products next time you need laundry or bathroom essentials; they are a safer choice for your health and the environment.
Additionally, businesses are tackling other kinds of single plastics such as plastic straws and plastic bags (take-away food packaging) due to their negative effects on the ocean.
As consumers, we can pay more attention to recycling and make sure that we are recycling correctly. Furthermore, we can stop relying on recycling and start reusing and buying zero-waste/bulk whole foods as much as possible.
This Earth Day, take a moment to consider where in your daily routine you could make a difference.
Do you purchase a coffee every morning from your favourite cafe? Try a beautiful reusable travel coffee cup.
How about some weekend shopping? Bring a stylish eco-friendly canvas bag with you and refuse single-use plastic bags.
Going to see a friend close by? Swap the car for a weekend walk, cycle or try and carpool to reduce your carbon footprint.
If you do live on the beach, try a beach clean up, and if you stay in the city, check out any local events to learn more about the environment.
About The Writer:
Beth Newark is a communications professional from the UK who works with wildlife conservation organisations and sustainable businesses. Beth works full time communicating biodiversity research and freelancing and a personal project in Ecological and Environmental Communications called Beth’s Nature. You can see more of Beth’s work on Social Media:
Cherie Julie, Founder of Travel For Change
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