A Personal Journey Through Plastic Consciousness

Studying plastic pollution has been one of the most significant successes and failures in my adolescent life. My interest in plastic began when I was fourteen, and developed as I continued to learn about the detrimental effects it has on the marine ecosystem. I spent years of my high school career studying microplastic–plastic fragments smaller than 5 millimeters created as byproducts of plastic manufacturing–which end up in the ocean due to increasing consumer demand for plastic products. I have sampled ocean water from the coasts of Maine and California, and found microplastic in every 500 milliliter sample. Additionally, I have studied the chemicals that plastic absorbs in the ocean, and the marine life that is harmed by consuming this toxin-concentrated plastic.

While I was making my début into the world of environmental consciousness, I made deliberate changes to reduce my plastic consumption. I made the ambitious attempt to rid as much plastic from my life as possible by researching, acting, and eliminating. After months of personal change, my family was generating less than two-thirds of our original plastic waste. As proud as I was of this change, I realized that my life was still not plastic-free in the slightest. I constantly felt failure and defeat when I realized how hypocritical I was being, and yet how impossible it was not to be: I was taking these water samples with two-liter plastic bottles made from indestructible polyethylene terephthalate; I was preaching the end to petroleum extraction while wearing my polyester polar fleece and polycarbonate eyeglasses. I realized that despite everything I was doing to reduce my plastic footprint and educate others, plastic could never truly be exorcised from everyday life.

One day in class we were discussing global conservation through the infamous question: Is it too late for change? Different perspectives were offered about whether or not we can beat these oppressive systems as small voices. My mind immediately shot to plastic and I found myself advocating that a few personal changes and endless petitions could not result in reclaiming a plastic-free lifestyle. One peer brought up a Margaret Meed quote:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

I took Margaret Mead’s words and put them to action as an overzealous high school student. I am a thoughtful, committed citizen who is now working towards a positive change, and I know I am not alone. I have advocated for bag bans and taxes, and pollution awareness in hopes that my actions will decrease plastic consumption and littering. In addition, I have promoted awareness by educating youth about marine debris, and the general public through conversation and social media. I have not stopped making personal changes, but now I am advocating for everyone else to make the change.

I am still accepting that it is not beneficial to look at our plastic-infested world as a failure, but rather as potential for growth. With thanks to Margaret Mead, I have let go of the need for a world without plastic. Perhaps I am not changing the world in a way that is recognized globally, but I have now come to peace with making small strides to get there. My hope is that my actions and dreams of a world without reliance on this human-extracted poison will provoke change in others.

Sustainable? Try Edible

Plastic food packaging means catastrophic single-use waste, and now, a waste problem that keeps on growing. Eco watch names plastic food packaging as an epidemic, and notes that every year, we produce enough single-use plastic waste to circle the world four times! The issue with plastic food packaging is that it only has a shelf life of however long the food that it’s preserving. So, for example, these apples at LAX.

Screen Shot 2017-05-23 at 3.13.52 PM.pngphoto credit

The unnecessary plastic might be cuddling up to these apples for a few days to a week. Is that enough time to encourage more plastic production, plastic that lasts a lifetime in landfills and oceans?

Remedies exist to this issue– above all, we can start using reusable and compostable materials. However, we might be able to cut down on even more of this plastic food packaging issue with some tasty solutions. These three startups have begun to tackle the issue of plastic packaging and utensils one yummy creation at a time.

Ooho Balls

Ooho balls, or rather, edible water, are a great solution to pre-bottled, single-use plastic water. These spheres are produced by the British startup Skipping Rocks Lab from Fast Company, and are all the rage on social media. The outer membrane is made of algae that you can either bite into or peel off and compost– making your mouth and our oceans happy.

In 2013 alone, the average American used 167 disposable water bottles. Could Ooho balls be a trendy solution to replace some of that plastic waste?

 

Edible Cutlery

These edible forks, spoons, knives, and chopsticks, what Kickstarter names “the future of eco friendly utensils,” have been making strides in India.

These utensils are made out of millet, rice, sorghum flour, rice flour, wheat flour and other grains; just pop them in your mouth and chew for some extra nutrients, or throw them away and they will compost on their own. The company boasts many flavors including sugar, ginger-cinnamon, ginger-garlic, celery, black pepper, and a wide array of others. This product has not yet made its way to American shelves, but has the potential to expand in the next few years to be widely available across continents.

Every year, 120 billion pieces of disposable plastic cutlery are discarded in India. The disposable cutlery idea has the potential to change this statistic.

 

 

Edible Straws

Straws are a huge, unnecessary plastic item that Americans cannot seem to do without. In Fact, we use more than 300 million plastic straws each day. But unfortunately, straws are too small to be easily recycled, and thus, become trash. However, have no fear, this company has produced a durable sugar straw that can last in fizzy drinks or milkshakes for up to 40 minutes without softening or breaking.

Although these straws do not boast as high nutrition as the other options for plastic remedies, containing 7 grams of sugar per straw, they do contain both protein and fiber.

Although straws are not a necessity such as eating utensils or liquid containers, they still seem to be sought after and used just as regularly. Perhaps this edible twist will lessen the footprint that straws leave on our oceans and landfills.

 Edible-straw-image-01.jpg
Photo credit 

Could “edible” be the new “sustainable?” Only time will tell. For more fun, edible products and designs– from candles to tissue paper, visit this page for fascinating ideas from all over the world.

Infants as Activists

I first became emotionally invested in the environment when I was a freshman in high school– about 14 year old. My other plastic activist friends discovered their passions for plastic minimization anywhere between 7th grade and their mid-college years. That was 14 years of using single-use plastic bottles and not fully understanding the connection between my actions and the global ramifications– something many adults still fail to see today. I have often asked myself if perhaps we are telling people to conserve after they have developed habits and lifestyles; and we all know that changing our ways is harder than setting an original precedent.

The solution is early hands-on education. I’m not just talking about traditional 5th grade science projects and answering fed questions about how we should conserve our land and oceans–which can be productive. I would argue that to make a splash in a young child’s life, ocean conservation should not only be taught, but also something assumed from early childhood play.

It is incredible what infants, toddlers, and young children pick up from their parents’ actions and the actions of whom they are surrounded by. If you drop everything to pick up a ringing telephone, your baby will pick up on this. Stressed from work? There is a good chance your toddler can sense it. I am not claiming any expertise when it comes to infant psychology, but I am noting that kids know a hell of a lot more than we think they do. How does this translate to plastic pollution? Children’s minds will detect your recycling habits, your compost processes, if you throw your plastic out your car window, and how you care for natural resources. Keep this in mind the next time you have susceptible, learning minds around.

Another great option to get infants involved– think as young as one day old– is to make pollution connections through stuffed animals. Fast Company has just released Pollutoys, a collection of plush toys created to teach kids about the plastic pollution issue. The plush animals may be cute, but also come with a belly full of removable plastic plush toys which sends a powerful message to our next budding generation. These toys may seen grim for such small children, but the faster kids can make connections and ask questions, the more potential they have to be responsible later on.

Fast forward months, maybe even a few years, and your child can participate in coastal cleanups. Beach cleaning is a great way to make a real-life connections and reflect on human action. Brownie points for discussions about what you’re actually doing, as well as talking about the ramifications if you didn’t pick up the trash and where it would end up, the place that most trash stays. These activities are fun to do with a group, and can bond friendships based on shared interests.

Don’t have kids? No problem. Talk to your friends that have children, gift a stuffed animal with a gut full of plastic, or just talk about plastic pollution when kids are present. Infants may not be capable of that much, but they are our legacy. If we want to protect our oceans, we need to make our future care, and create activists from day one.

Why you Need to Buy a Reusable Water Bottle

Cost. Bottled water costs 300 to 2000 times more than tap water. Buying a pack of bottled water is like spending $15,000 on a round of drinks.

8209d75e7db66573c1df9cdf2c7dadf8f43274993e8d92a1eb4a7584b51f8ef7.jpg
Photo credit

Style. The reusable bottle is becoming trendy. I bet you can hear it now  “Ooooo, where did you get your awesome rose gold stainless steal bottle? It insulates? So cool.”

socially-awkward-penguin-meme-compliment.jpg
Photo Credit 

Diversity. Your reusable water bottle can become a part of your identity. Like simple wood designs? I’ve got a bottle for you. Need a full 2 liters? Check this bottle out.

pinkie-pie-smile-meme-generator-it-s-so-beautiful-0c5789.jpg.png

Photo credit

Health. Single use bottles just aren’t meant to reuse! In fact, they’re dangerous. All kinds of bacteria can thrive in made-to-be-disposed bottles, even after washing, and regular wear and tear forms cracks that could harbor bacteria. Bacteria doesn’t gross you out? Try leached chemicals.

a97c1ea1d8031eae035028410ec15413_i-noticed-you-refill-your-plastic-water-bottles-i-too-like-to-live-water-bottle-meme_480-320.jpeg
Photo Credit

I bet your fingers are twitching in anticipation to start that online reusable bottle shopping. Remember that stainless steal is best over plastic, and that you can never have too many reusable bottles.

 79af6b3bc5b23131ace1d835c402fa444ebd7cfc574c6b040665280337e74d7e.jpg
Photo Credit

From Waste to Ocean to Art

All of these dedicated, talented artists have one thing in common: they are turning plastic pollution into an art so sublime and beautiful, it’s hard to remember their chosen plastic medium. Educators, activists, and artists (and many who share the same titles) have produced statues, portraits, installations, and everything in between to create what I like to call “activism,” or rather activism through art, that forces laypeople to ask the right questions.

The Washed up Series by Alejandro Durán 

Alejandro Durán is originally from Mexico City where he developed his love for multimedia arts.  He produces photographs with plastic installed in nature– but in a more deliberate, thought-provoking was and less natural and haphazard. The Washed Up series aims to “reveal the pervasive impact of consumer culture on the natural world” and “the fraught intersections of man and nature.” On his website, he encourages fans of his work to keep informed on the issue of plastic pollution and to make changes in their lives to reduce their impact on the environment.

marine-plastic-alejandro-duran.jpg

 

Tess Felix: Ocean Eco Heroes

Tess Felix uses plastic debris to create portraits of plastic pollution activists who are fighting against the issue and system. She notes that, “The contrast between the humanity of the figures and the plastic materials they are made of suggests that we are part of and responsible for the problem we have created.” This portrait is of Beth Terry, author of My Plastic Free Life.

marine-plastic-tess-felix.jpg

Washed Ashore

Washed Ashore art activism is less artist and more education– but don’t let that fool you. Together Washed Ashore molds plastic debris into stunning sculptures like this 3D fish. But this organization doesn’t just stop at art: NOAA’s marine debris blog notes that.
“washed Ashore will incorporate visual art, theatre, movement, and creative writing. These tools will help convey powerful messaging and communications on the topic and engage students in a meaningful way raising awareness about this issue.”

henry.jpg

5 Tips to De-plastify Your Life

We are all in need of a plastic detox in our generation, whether it’s personal or a global effort. Here are 5 easy methods to get the toxic out of your life and reduce your plastic footprint–some obvious and some a little unconventional. Once you start, you’ll be seeing  our plastic problem and potential solutions everywhere.

Be Conscious with an Open Mind 

Fabric_and_Bees_Wax_Wraps.jpg

Photo Credit

Finding plastic-free alternatives can be a challenge, but Google and Pinterest have your back. Just by being aware and scrolling through options to de-plastify, you’re on the right track. This Pinterest user found a way to kick her plastic wrap problem by making DIY bees wax cloth wraps.

Tupperware is your Best Friend 

36caf7c919b72f4e_resealable-plastic-containers-preview.jpg

Photo Credit

Tupperware is a great alternative to keep food longer and fresher, which is probably not a new concept. After a meal, throw your leftovers in a container and reheat at a later date, or pack your kids’ snacks and lunch in Tupperware instead of single-use plastic bags. Tupperware comes in all different materials, but glass trumps reusable plastic. Take this idea one step further and bring your Tupperware to restaurants to take home leftover food

Shop Smart 

fresh-produce.jpg

Photo Credit

It’s hard to get through a grocery store without a cart full of plastic–from produce to snacks, to dairy and meat. Some was to reduce the plastic while shopping:

  1. Grow and make your own food– it’s ok to start small
  2. Bring your own re-usable bags (even for produce!)
  3. Purchase in bulk
  4. Buy local

Clothing Matters 

img-thing.jpeg

Photo Credit

Buy clothing with natural, plastic-free materials like wool, cotton, hemp, or silk. Avoid plastic polyester and microplastic-shedding polar fleece.

Refuse Microbeads 

01-totalbeauty-logo-ecofriendly-microbead-free-exfoliators.jpeg

Photo Credit

Switch up your face wash and beauty products. Many face washes contain microbeads (aka plastic beads). A law passed in 2015 banning these poison pills, but the products are still out there. Check the label on your face wash  for the contents, and opt for a cleanser that’s plastic-free.

 

 

 

“Ooho” Baby: Could This be The End of Plastic Bottles?

 

asdfasd.jpg

Photo: Fast Company

There is hope yet for our catastrophic single-use plastic water bottle problem. Introducing: the Ooho ball– what you may know trending now as the “edible water bottle.” These hydrating spheres have been in the works since 2013 and are now finally produced by the British startup Skipping Rocks Lab from Fast Company.

The product completely edible, and the outer jelly shell is made of tasteless biodegradable seaweeds. Many fans like popping the sphere in their mouths, and others prefer to puncture the outer membrane, sip from the drinking vessel, and leave it to biodegrade.

In 2013, the average American used 167 disposable water bottles. And globally, we use an overwhelming 17 million barrels of oil annually just for bottles– enough to fuel 1.3 million cars for a year (not even including the oil used for transportation). Could this edible blob be a sustainable end to this madness?

How It’s Made

Ooho, mentioned above, is made possible by seaweeds used as its membrane. The edible bottle’s membrane was composed through spherification which includes sodium alginate from seaweed and calcium chloride.

These blobs are made through spherification, which shapes liquids into spheres. As Fast Company describes it: “A compound made from brown algae and calcium chloride creates a gel around the water…While the package is being formed, the water is frozen as ice, making it possible to create a bigger sphere and keeping the ingredients in the membrane and out of the water.” These little gems only cost 2 cents to make, which makes them not only super cool and eco friendly, but affordable too.

REALLY the end of Single-use Bottles?

Short answer: It depends who you ask. It’s hard to agree with TIME’s statement, “this edible water blob could replace plastic water bottles.”

because, mainly, the blobs are not widely distributed yet. I (and some others) are spectacle about long-term storage, sanitation, and what they chose for a price tag markup.

We are addicted to the convenience of plastic water bottles and these little balls still have a few kinks they need to work out. I, along with many internet users, are excited to see the process and product that the innovators at Skipping Rocks Lab will produce.