Packaging waste is one of the biggest contributors to pollution and toxic air emissions. When we think of packaging waste we mostly think of garbage on the streets or landfills and burning of materials. We forget about the part of the world we don’t see all the time, the ocean. All the oceans cover over 70% of the Earth, with about 15% of the world’s wildlife residing in them. Yet, with all this biodiversity living in these important places on our planet, there are still over five trillion pieces of plastic debris and waste in the ocean. Off the coast of North America and spanning to Japan, there is something known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. This is a circulation of waste that comes from oceans, lakes, rivers, etc, and then just stays there. It is about twice the size of Texas to put it in perspective for you, which is horrific. In this essay, I will discuss the importance of reducing packaging waste in the world’s oceans, and the steps we can take to make it happen.
One of the biggest reasons why we need to reduce the amount of packaging waste in our oceans, it is killing the biodiversity and marine life in its own home that is meant to protect it. Most non-biodegradable plastics end up getting washed into the oceans and then are consumed by wildlife. This then sets off a chain reaction as to if those animals survive, and if they do then the waste just keeps getting passed around. There are many reasons this happens, one being the majority of waste produced in the world is neither recyclable nor compostable. Thus it cannot be broken down or reused. People just throw things out and go by the mindset of “out of sight, out of mind”. A way we can switch this mentality and greatly help the environment is to switch to biodegradable or recyclable items. For example, one of the most known battles in the past couple of years is the switch from single-use plastic straws to either compostable or reusable metal straws. This became a very prominent battle as people found out the negative effect that straws have on turtles and other marine life. While this was an important movement and cause and changed the ways a lot of people go about life and their own waste, we can’t stop there. That was only the beginning of the change. We need to continue to move forward in this battle again with single-use packaging waste, and if we do, we need to be more aware of where it ends up. A couple of things we can do is make more of an effort to not use single-use plastic utensils when out, and to carry our own reusable ones instead. Also when buying products look for those with packaging that can be recycled or composted. Instead of using five plastic bags to buy your produce from the grocery store in buy some reusable bags, instead of buying the pre-cut fruit and veggies in the plastic containers get the fresh not pre-packaged veggies and fruit. Make the switch from using single-use plastic ziplock bags to reusable silicone bags. And then at the end of the day when you do have a product you need to discard, make a conscious effort to either recycle or compost it or find a way to repurpose it.
If everyone started to make more of a conscious effort to keep this cause going then companies that do mass produce packaging waste would have to take a step back to follow what the consumers want. The change starts with us, one step at a time. Do we really want to live in a world where waste is killing us? Where turtles, dolphins, fish, and whales can’t live in their homes? No, so be the change.
Essay by: Grace Herrmann
Western Washington University