The Plastic Free July campaign is a worldwide initiative to raise awareness of our growing plastic waste problem. Millions of individuals, schools, communities and companies from 177 countries take part in the challenge each year. The goal is to reduce single-use plastic waste.
Plastic is an amazing material: durable, cheap, easy to mold, long lasting, with all sorts of beneficial uses. On the other hand, it can be a curse. It creates an extremely long-lasting and non-biodegradable waste stream that stuffs landfills, clogs waterways, chokes wildlife, and litters our roadways. While plastics can be used and recycled wisely, the majority of those produced are neither. Here’s some startling facts:
US plastic recycling rates stand at an abysmal 9% and is expected to decline now that China is refusing our plastic waste.
- Over a million plastic bottles are produced every minute worldwide.
- Over a trillion plastic bags are produced every year worldwide.
- There’s been explosive growth of new plastic production in the last two decades.
- A beverage bottle may take 450 years to degrade.
- 40% of plastic produced is packaging used just once and then discarded.
Most people want to recycle. But many products are difficult or impossible to recycle economically. Even the more recyclable plastics (#1, #2, #5) can have limitations. For example, that desirable crystal-clear pop or water bottle when recycled won’t produce another crystal-clear bottle when recycled. So, it needs to be “downcycled” (i.e.- made into a different product like plastic lumber or fabric). And there can be limitations to the number of times a polymer can be recycled. All that adds up to limited demand for recycled plastics with most disposed into landfills, and finding its way to oceans and waterways.
Human health can also be a concern. Plastic photodegrades into ever smaller pieces. These microplastics can be ingested from the water we drink or the air we breathe with unknown health consequences. These smaller bits of plastic are also consumed by fish and birds who mistake it for food, disrupting ecosystems and bioconcentrating for species higher up on the food chain, including humans. Then there’s the additives in plastics that lack a safety record or have been linked to specific health concerns.
It all adds up to some needed change. Since we now know for every ten plastic things you try to recycle only one will actually get recycled, we can use our creativity to figure out how to generate less waste and switch to materials that are biodegradable or more recyclable like aluminum, metal, cardboard and glass containers, and that are less dangerous to animal and marine life. We hope you’ll join us in July and refuse plastic. Our Ideas to Reduce Plastic Waste tip sheet can help give you some ideas. Your efforts make a difference!