The Truth About Single-Use Plastics

January 09, 2019

Debra's plastic-free kit

Hi, I'm Debra, Creative at Yoga Movement by day; and artist and Environmental Enthusiast by night. As an Environmental Studies major in high school, I've been a huge advocate of environmental conservation way before the hype around metal straws and reusable cups. These are what's in my bag daily: some good ol' containers, bamboo utensils and toothbrush, metal straws (I find metal to be the most hardy and long-lasting over other materials), a leather cable tie and a reusable bag for my post-yoga gear. They're nothing fancy, really, as I've always believed that you just need something that does the job — anything else is just frills that might grow out of style and go to waste. I first made the decision to live more consciously when I grew up in Jakarta, where recycling is virtually non-existent. Surrounded by plastic waste on my daily commute, it made me think of how ironic it is that we are supposed to be the future of this planet, yet here we are with our trash, doing the exact opposite and messing it all up. I wanted to lessen my impact, so I’d read up about human impacts to the environment, watch tons of documentaries, do volunteer work, and conduct charities to support environmental issues. 

All sources point to one common consensus: that we can be doing a little bit more to help reduce our impact of plastic on the environment. When I ordered a drink at a cafe recently, it came with a disclaimer that they've stopped providing straws to save the ocean. I was pleased, of course — it was a good start — though I knew deep down inside that the truth is, straws are far from our biggest problem when it comes to plastic pollution. Plastic kills marine life partially because of strangulation or choking. But the larger reason plastic is so dangerous is that it releases toxic chemicals when it breaks down. So, when our plastic bottles, containers, bags and straws go to waste, it not only means marine pollution, but also air pollution that affect both you and I. 

Let’s walk through what we know...

I’m sure you’re familiar with photographs of bird’s bodies filled with plastic; or, a YouTube video of a sea turtle with a straw lodged in its nose that went viral with over than 33 million views; or, that heartbreaking image of a seahorse swimming with a discarded cotton swab. All of which illustrate the issues of pollution in our oceans. Humans are not spared — microplastics have been found in human stools too, according to studies suggesting that the tiny particles are present and widespread in the human food chain.

A whopping 91% of plastic isn’t recyclable. Of the 8.3 billion metric tons that has been produced, 6.3 billion metric tons have become plastic waste. The vast majority is accumulating in landfills and much of it ends up in the oceans — the final sink. An example of that is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch located in the North Pacific Gyre off the coast of California. It is the largest ocean garbage in the world. This floating mass of plastic is twice the size of Texas. If we continue this trend, the oceans will contain more plastic waste than fish by 2050.

We know plastic is a problem, but the million-dollar question is: what can we do to keep plastic out of the ocean?

One method of mitigating the accumulation of plastic in the first place is eliminating use of pesky single-use plastics. Certain households are taking a step in the right direction with Mason jars, collapsible coffee cups, thermoses, beeswax food wrap, stainless-steel straws, menstrual cups... These are all good, but when we get caught up in the idea that going plastic-free has to look a certain way (thanks to new media), we lose sight of the end goal: to send fewer disposable objects to the oceans.

Here are some ideas for letting your ingenuity rule this more sustainable journey:

What are you supporting?
Get specific with your “why”, and reflect on it on the daily. Why are you picking up that fancy new reusable cup? Why are you buying that metal straw? Know your motivations, and let it stick. Personally, I grew up with turtles and have always loved animals, but it all hit me when I saw The Inconvenient Truth when I was 12. Ask yourself what you care about and educate yourself with talks, books, podcasts and documentaries. Quote it on your Instagram profile, tattoo it on your wrist — always come back to your WHY.

Assess your waste
Maybe you realise you’re throwing away a lot of trash by getting to-go coffee every morning. Prioritise making coffee at home and taking it in a reusable mug. Or maybe you’re not sure what to do with all these extra plastic forks from food deliveries. It’s a personal choice, but I’d advocate using them up first, and then improvising an alternative after that — even if it means swearing off food deliveries, or only using the food delivery apps that allow you to opt out of plastic cutlery. 

Change the way you shop
Encourage yourself to shop mindfully to curb impulse purchases and reduce waste. Repeat after me: I do not need to buy every plastic-free alternative at once. That felt good didn’t it? Replace things as you use them up and not before. Sometimes you don’t need the perfect thing, you just need a thing. A metal fork pulled from your kitchen drawer and tucked into a cloth napkin is just as good as a special, brand-new kit of bamboo utensils.

Research on how to recycle and repurpose better
Keep your trash can light by reading up on the recycling rules in your area. As you move away from single-use disposables, you’ll find that you’re recycling less, too. Donate items. Recycle whatever you can. Compost whatever you can. Find a way to repurpose and reuse an old item whenever you can.

Remember: it’s a process
Learn to say no to single-use plastics. Educate the ones who can't seem to understand why you don't need a double bag for your groceries. Sometimes, speaking up about your environmental interests is enough to start building a conversation. However, it's important to be kind to yourself and others, and remember that every step you take towards having a positive impact is positive.

It’s exciting to see that the place where I spent the most time at, both as a Creative and long time client, share a similar mission to move towards being free from single-use plastic bottles. Our SaladStop! carton waters are a great substitute, and needless to say, I was stoked to be asked to design the logo for our water taps! With these great initiatives in place, I can only hope that everyone else in the #YMFAM will be encouraged to not only practice mindfulness on the mat, but also practice mindfulness towards a more sustainable community.

By Debra Raymond, Environmental Enthusiast and Creative at Yoga Movement.

Do you write? Do you have some strong opinions on subjects around YM, yoga, food, coffee, people… life?! Feel free to submit your opinion pieces to YM at info@yogamovement.com, and we might be able to get your words up in lights on yogamovement.com!