Plastic is everywhere. It’s polluting the land and it’s devastating the oceans. It’s washing up on beaches and killing marine life. And more plastic is being produced every day. Yet a significant amount of the plastic waste we generate can easily be avoided. It’s time to take a stand against plastic. – Jessica Wright
Shocking images that have been widely shared on social media – the island of plastic off Honduras, a diver swimming in a sea of rubbish in Bali and the seahorse latched onto a Q-tip – have helped to raise awareness of the stark reality of plastic pollution.
But there is good news, in as much as both the general public and governments are starting to move towards reducing plastic consumption and eliminating single-use plastics. In Cayman, two advocacy groups, Plastic Free Cayman and Cloth Diapering in Cayman are leading the charge locally.
Every year some 300 millions tons of plastic – including 500 billion plastic bags – are produced. Over eight million tons of this ends up in the oceans, the majority of it filling with water and sinking out of sight (which is why you see so many bottle tops, but so few bottles washed up on the beaches).
Even the plastic that stays on land does not decompose. The vast majority of all the plastic ever produced will still be here in 500 years time. The bacteria that break down and biodegrade natural materials do not attack plastics. At best, when exposed to sunlight, plastic photo-degrades – meaning it becomes brittle and breaks into smaller and smaller pieces.
Fish, turtles, whales and dolphins frequently become entangled in large pieces of marine waste, whilst tiny micro-plastics are mistaken for food and ingested by fish and birds. The indigestible plastics fill their stomachs, causing them to starve to death.
Worse still, of the 300 million tons of plastic produced each year, an estimated 50% is single use plastic: that is, plastics that are used once, then thrown away.
In Cayman, between the lack of recycling facilities and a landfill site that is fast approaching maximum capacity, the need to reduce plastic is urgent.
Only two types of plastic are shipped off island for recycling: Type 1 Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET or PETE) and Type 2 High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE) – and even when the new Integrated Solid Waste Management System is up and running, much of what ends up in the landfill is likely to be plastic.
The solution to plastic pollution is therefore not recycling. It’s drastically reducing the amount we use.
When you’re at the grocery store, be aware of the packaging. Do you need to buy the rice/pasta/couscous in the plastic container? Look for similar products sold in cardboard or glass. Likewise, choose cooking oils, vinegars, sauces and so on in glass, rather than plastic bottles. Opt for paper bags and wrappers instead of plastic; cardboard egg cartons rather than styrofoam; loose fruit and vegetable instead of that which has been packaged in plastic trays and boxes. Equally, instead of eight yoghurts in single-serving pots, buy the large container. The same goes for toiletries, detergents, etc. – buy in bulk to cut down on packaging.
If you would like to get more involved in fighting plastic pollution, there are local volunteer groups in Cayman you can get involved with. Plastic Free Cayman and Cloth Diapering are both great options. You don’t need to wait for legislation that limits the plastic production and consumption to be enacted. You can start reducing your personal plastic use now.
None of these single use plastics are actually necessary, and viable non-plastic, non-disposable alternatives are readily available.
Straws: If you really need a straw, use a glass or stainless steel one – available at Jessie’s Juice, OMGi Essentials, Foster’s and Kirk Home Centre.
Coffee cups: Get yourself a re-usable coffee cup so that you don’t need to use the disposable cups when you order your coffee to go.
Shopping bags: Use the reusable shopping bags for your groceries and other purchases – keep a few in the car, so they are always at hand. Don’t use the plastic bags in the fruit and vegetable area either.
Water bottles: Stop buying bottled water. Purchase an aluminium or glass water bottle and refill it with tap water, filtered Flowers water, or something similar, instead.
– One-time use disposable plastic cutlery.
– Face wash, shower gels and toothpastes with microbeads which pass through filters and end up in the sea.
– Wet wipes that do not biodegrade.
– Plastic toothbrushes. Look into bamboo ones instead.
– Ziploc and sandwich bags. Use glass or hardwearing food containers.
– Flushing Q-tips down the toilet – Just like microbeads, these pass through most filters and end up in the sea.
If you want to gain a better understanding of why we should all be concerned about the world’s plastic problem, check out this documentary: Blue Planet II – Episode 7 ‘Our Blue Planet’ – available on BBC. This episode examines how plastic is becoming an increasing problem for oceans and their wildlife. This episode prompted Queen Elizabeth II to ban plastic straws and bottles from the Royal estates.
Do you have questions about Cayman’s recycling strategies? Contact the Department of Environmental Health (DEH) for more information.
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