What happens after you toss away single-use plastics?

June 27, 2019

What happens after you toss away single-use plastics?

Illustration by @elliekakoulli_illustrations

You don’t need to believe in climate change to understand why we need to reduce our single-use plastics consumption

Plastic is a truly an extraordinary material. Its benefits are undeniable. Durability, flexibility, its lightweight nature, and affordability are all attributes that have led to a plastic boom in recent decades. But these advantages have now turned plastic into an issue for humans- most plastics never break down. Virtually every piece of plastic that was ever made still exists in some shape or form, though a small amount has been incinerated.

We’re not here to convince you that climate change is real or that we have a CO2-emissions issue. Instead, we’re here to convince you to rethink the use of single-use plastics. There’s no judgement here. Nobody can be perfect (as a company we are far from perfect), but we can all try.

What exactly is single-use plastic?

It’s exactly what it sounds like- disposable plastics that are used only once before they are thrown away or recycled. Think plastic grocery bags, cigarette butts, Solo cups, straws, Styrofoam takeaway containers (foamed plastics), Poland Spring water bottles, and food packaging, just to name a few. While some single-use plastics are recyclable, the nature of them makes it difficult to recycle, and new virgin materials and chemicals need to be added to do so. In any case, only 9% of plastic waste ever produced has been recycled according to the UN.

What happens after you toss away single-us plastics?

The reason why single-use plastic is such a big offender is because so much of it ends up in the ocean. Single-use plastic is typically lightweight and can travel great distances via wind, making it easy to contaminate bodies of water.

When plastic ends up in the ocean, it breaks down into “microplastic”.  These are plastic fragments measuring 5.0 millimeters in size or less and can be consumed by fish, birds, and other marine life. In fact, it’s not uncommon for dead whales to be found with 50+ pounds of plastic in their stomachs.  According to the Center for Biological Diversity, fish consume thousands of tons of plastic annually.

But how does that impact me?

It’s not hard to understand that if animals are eating plastic and we are eating those animals, we too are eating plastic.

The implications are two-fold. As early as five years ago, researchers in Europe concluded that a portion of mussels in Europe could contain 90 microplastics. It's also already known that some of the commercial fish and shellfish that humans are eating contain microplastics. But many fish and marine life animals are dying from ingesting so much plastic, which poses a threat to the food chain. It's not far-fetched to think of a situation where future generations can't consume fish the way we currently do without being fearful of the impact on their health. 

What can I do?

It’s going to be increasingly difficult for us to resolve these plastic-related challenges.  Recycling is only a partial solution because not all plastics can be recycled, nor do all consumers try to recycle. The solution is to reduce our consumption of single use plastics as much as possible. We’re not advocating that you shift your entire life overnight. We’re challenging you to think about the ways you can reduce use of and dependency on single-use-plastic.

Here are a few ideas to get started:

  • If you’re using Styrofoam or paper cups at work, consider bringing a mug. Most cafes and cafeteria offer a discount if you bring your own mug. If they don’t, ask for one!
  • At restaurants or cafés, tell the server to hold the straw. You can also purchase a pack of metal straws to use at home
  • Keep a set of reusable bags in your car for shopping. The hardest part is usually remembering to bring the bag.
  • When throwing a party and disposables must be used, consider buying drinks in aluminum cans instead of bottles. Aluminum cans are recycled at a much higher rate than plastic
  • Consider whether certain items you consume weekly that typically arrive in plastic can be made at home. Yogurt is one easy example. It’s easy to make at home and makes for a great activity with kids

What is b.a.r.e. soaps doing?

At b.a.r.e. soaps, we are looking to do the following:

- Shift all packaging to be cardboard-based (which is typically recycled at higher rates) by year-end 2019. Yes, paper requires trees and water to make, but we feel it is overall a more eco-friendly material.

- Replace bubble wrap and peanuts with paper by year-end 2019.  Note that currently, the majority of our bubble wrap is actually recycled from other shipments.

- Phase out any jars that currently have a plastic component (such as our deep cleanse face mask). This is a tough one and we plan to do this by year end 2020.

If there are any other things you think we can do to be more sustainable, please reach out to us directly at support@bare-soaps.com. We would love to hear from you!