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Moving Away From Single-Use Plastics
Moving Away From Single-Use Plastics Image

Angelenos are extremely fortunate to have wonderful ocean access and beautiful beaches. We all want to see our waterways stay scenic and clean. Sadly, by now, most of us have likely heard about single-use plastics such as straws and grocery bags making their way into oceans and affecting wildlife. But, why did single-use plastics become so widespread and what are some possible alternatives? Let’s take a look.

 

The Rise and Fall of Single-Use Plastics

According to Erik Solheim, Head of UN Environment, “Since the 1950’s, the production of plastics has outpaced almost every other material”. Plastic is an extremely durable material that opened up a wide-range of manufacturing opportunities. It became an essential material in avoiding contamination in medical and food packaging. But, with such a meteoric rise, many harmful details were ignored out of the gates. We now know much more about the harmful nature of plastic when not disposed of properly. 

For example: Americans alone use 100 billion plastic bags a year. That breaks down to 1,500 plastic bags a year for the average American family. That’s a lot of bags. When you consider that only one percent of plastic bags get recycled each year (or 15 bags annually per family) and the rest end up in landfills or waterways, you can see that we face a serious problem. Adding to the issue is the fact that plastic takes over 500 years to degrade in a landfill and even then it never fully degrades, leading to microplastics that can infiltrate groundwater resources and cause major health issues.

 

A Glimpse of the Alternatives

When it comes to moving away from plastic there are several available options. One of the most appealing is utilizing aluminum, the second most used material in the world. While aluminum has issues of its own, such as a production process that uses enormous amounts of energy and can create several harmful byproducts, there are a few arguments that support it as a more sustainable alternative to single-use plastics. 

Pros

  • Aluminum is very easily recycled. It has the highest rate of recycling of any material at 68 percent. 
  • This material can be recycled indefinitely (over and over) with no loss of quality.
  • Utilizing recycled aluminum in manufacturing leads to 95 percent lower energy consumption than producing new aluminum.

 

When you properly recycle aluminum, it can create a highly sustainable process. But, there have to be other alternatives right? 

Glass is a good option and it has risen in popularity lately as a sustainable material. Although it holds some of the same concerns as aluminum, such as the high energy consumption during production, many people see it as a step in the right direction. Let’s take a look at why.

Pros

  • When glass breaks down no harmful byproducts are created.
  • Glass is 100 percent recyclable, meaning that it can be recycled over and over and over again.
  • Glass can be cleaned out easily and used as a durable storage material.
  • New glass production that mixes in recycled materials leads to lower energy consumption, air pollution, and water pollution during production.

 

The Zero-Waste Movement

Many Angelenos and others around the world have embarked on ‘The Zero Waste Movement’. What’s that? Well, it is an effort to eliminate waste in an effort to protect our environment. By starting with small lifestyle changes, people all over the globe have effectively eliminated trash from their lives. This keeps millions of tons of waste out of landfills each year and promotes sustainable consumerism. 

So, how do people actually go about eliminating waste from their lives? According to Planet Aid, doing things like buying secondhand, using reusable containers, and composting food scraps, can significantly reduce the amount of trash people produce on a regular basis. When it comes to reusable containers, glass has become king. Many Zero-Wasters utilize glass jars as containers for common household necessities, such as food, cleaning products, and miscellaneous objects. 

 

What Can You Do?

Figuring out how to minimize your impact on the environment can be a daunting task, but you aren’t alone. People across this nation, especially in the great state of California, are embarking on a mission to live sustainably. Here are some final tips for how you can live more sustainably:

 

    1. Reuse materials whenever possible. Each use that you get out of a product reduces that product’s carbon footprint by half. This means that you’re getting more bang for your buck and contributing towards a cleaner planet.
    2. Keep recycling at the front of your mind. When you recycle products, you eliminate the need to create more from scratch. This drastically lowers production-related environmental issues. Recycling also ensures that materials aren’t stuck decomposing in landfills. Products such as aluminum and glass can be recycled over and over again.
    3. Don’t use single-use plastics if you don’t need to. Eliminating plastic bags from your life can create a large, positive impact on the local environment. We’ve seen the same go for plastic straws. If there is an alternative to using single-use plastics, then try to utilize that alternative whenever possible. 

 

By engaging in these simple processes, you can help eliminate plastic waste from our waterways and keep our city clean and sustainable. If you have any questions or comments feel free to reach out to us at lastormwater@lacity.org

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