As plastic packaging, plastic straws, plastic utensils and plastic cups proliferate, so has the term “single use.” Ten years ago “single use” wasn’t in our vocabulary. Now it’s Collins Dictionary word of the year. Single use is plastic that’s used once then tossed. Because plastic doesn’t biodegrade, it piles up in our environment. Plastic waste has been quietly accumulating for years, but now it is impossible to ignore: it collects in our oceans, washes up on our beaches and, eventually, enters our food chain.
Governments are attempting to slow the flow of single-use plastics. The European Union passed a ban on plastic cutlery, plates, cotton-buds, straws, drink stirrers and sticks attached to balloons. These are easy to live without since alternatives exist. Taiwan is banning plastic cups, straws, bags and aims to be free of single-use plastic by 2030. Countries, including South Korea, Jamaica, Bangladesh, Rwanda and Kenya ban plastic bags. Kenya has the strictest bag ban. Producing, selling or using a plastic bag in Kenya is punishable by $40,000 in fines or four years in jail. Ghana’s president proposed a bag ban in 2015 after plastic bags and other plastic waste clogged storm drains during heavy rains, caused massive flooding and killed 150 people. Ghana is still working on a plastic ban.
When a video of a sea turtle with a plastic straw stuck up its nose went viral, straws became the most hated type of single-use plastic. In the United States, where reducing single-use plastic is a state and local issue, New York City, Hawaii, California, Miami Beach and Seattle have plastic straw bans in place or pending. Bans are creating a huge, new market for paper straws. Aardvark, the company started by the inventor of the straw in 1888, is building a larger factory to keep up with the demand. Other increasingly banned items include foam cups, foam containers and plastic bags.
Businesses are reducing single-use plastic too. Dunkin Donuts is getting rid of polystyrene cups worldwide. Starbucks, which doles out one billion straws per year, will be strawless by 2020. Kraft/Heinz has committed to making all its packaging worldwide recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025.
But there’s no need to wait for governments and businesses to act. We can reduce single-use plastic from our lives now by bringing our reusable water bottles, coffee mugs, bags, to-go containers and flatware with us. It’s great to finally see our use-and-toss habits being curbed, but we still have a big plastic-waste mess to clean up. As Bill Nye the Science Guy says, “To leave the world better than you found it, sometimes you have to pickup other people’s trash.” And BlueTubes are all about picking up other people’s trash. Grab a clean, used plastic bag from the BlueTube at your beach. Pick up other people’s single-use plastic that’s washed in from faraway or has been recently dropped. Throw it in the garbage. When we reuse our plastic bags by adding them to a BlueTube, we make it easier for everyone to clean up our plastic-waste mess. If your beach doesn’t have a BlueTube, it should!