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  America
Six Easy Ways to Stop Wasting So Much Plastic
Special Contribution
By Danielle Nierenberg
Six Easy Ways to Stop Wasting So Much Plastic

When my co-founder Bernie Pollack and I started Food Tank, we noticed how easy it can be to feel hopeless thinking about the problems in the food system. We try to focus on solutions—on the stories of hope and success, on the ways we can get started on the messy work of fixing our broken food system.

One of the most inspiring examinations of the work ahead comes from Tom Philpott, a Mother Jones journalist and former farmer. His new book, "Perilous Bounty: The Looming Collapse of American Farming and How We Can Prevent It," not only focuses on the increasingly consolidated and corporatized food system, but also highlights the activists and farmers pushing for more resilient and climate-friendly practices.

On Food Talk Live TODAY at 2 pm EST, I’ll talk with Tom about the ways we can all help prevent a collapse of farming in America. Please join me on our Facebook and YouTube pages!

Another problem that can feel hopeless is our overuse of plastic. The amount of plastic that we throw away is staggering. According to the Plastic Pollution Coalition, people in the U.S. alone throw out more than 30 million tons of plastic a year, and only 8 percent of it gets recycled. The rest goes to landfills, gets incinerated, or piles up in oceans and waterways. Right now, more than 5 trillion plastic pieces sit in our oceans, weighing over 250,000 tons.

And unfortunately, COVID-19 seems to be making the problem worse. As we pivot toward takeout, delivery, and pre-packaged meals, demand for single-use plastics is expected to rise by about 14 percent. This makes it all the more urgent to think actively about ways we can reduce our plastic use.

This week, Food Tank is highlighting six easy ways you can rethink your plastic use, starting right now:

● Supporting innovative plastic replacement technologies
● Drinking tap water instead of buying plastic bottles
● Trying to avoid disposable plastic utensils
● Buying in bulk
● Choosing personal care products without microplastics
● Publicly demonstrating your commitment to cutting down your plastic footprint

And be sure to tune into "Food Talk with Dani Nierenberg" to hear my full conversations with Tom Philpott, Ted Nordhaus of The Breakthrough Institute, Luis Guardia from the Food Research & Action Center, and many other experts.

What easy steps have you taken to live a more sustainable life? Share them with me at danielle@foodtank.com! Sharing information and best practices with each other is one of the best ways to build greener communities, so you can also join the conversation on social media with #FoodTank or by tagging us @FoodTank.

The production and disposal of plastic food packaging is energy-intensive and leads to polluted air, soil, and water resources. And once plastics are in circulation, they accumulate in oceans, harming marine life, and break down into smaller microplastics that make their way into food and beverages. Currently, the world’s oceans are polluted by more than 5 trillion plastic pieces, collectively weighing over 250,000 tons. And of the 30 million tons of plastic Americans throw away annually, only 8 percent is recycled, according to the Plastic Pollution Coalition.

And COVID-19 is likely spurring an increase in single-use plastics, according to a recent paper from the American Chemical Society. Demand is expected to rise by as much as 14 percent in the United States, due in large part to more food delivery, takeout, and pre-packaged grocery products meant to limit the spread of the virus.

But despite a pandemic, we can limit our use of single use plastics. Food Tank is excited to highlight 6 easy ways you rethink your plastic packaging use—starting right now.

1. Purchasing products using innovative plastic replacement technologies

Keeping coffee fresh can be difficult, and several companies claim their bags are compostable—but the plastic parts, which help with ventilation, are not. Elevate Packaging has created the first coffee bag with fully compostable valves, and Don Maslow Coffee is one of the first brands to adopt them. For their chocolate truffles, Alter Eco uses compostable wrappers made of eucalyptus and birch trees with microscopic aluminum layers that maintain freshness; these are fully compostable and biodegrade in oceans. And Guayaki, a sustainability-focused yerba mate company, now sells their loose-leaf teas in compostable Natureflex bags, which contributed to reducing their annual packaging use by 44,000 pounds.

2. Drinking tap water instead of buying plastic bottles

Around 20,000 plastic waste bottles are sold every second around the world, according to figures from Euromonitor International—a total of 480 billion in 2016. And not only are many of these wasted, but they also deposit microplastics in our digestive systems. And according to the 2019 Plastic Atlas, compiled by the Heinrich Böel Foundation and Break Free From Plastic, “people who drink water from plastic bottles wash something like 130,000 microplastic particles down their throats every year,” compared with 4,000 particles present in tap water.

3. Trying to avoid disposable plastic utensils

The wave of plastic straw bans in summer 2018 drew attention to the massive plastic waste associated with the products: Based on beach cleanup data, researchers calculated that around 7.5 billion straws are currently littering America’s beaches. But straws make up only around 4 percent of plastic trash on a piece-by-piece level, making it important to examine other commonly disposed utensils, like plastic forks and spoons. Cutlery has been rated by the Ocean Conservancy as one of the items “most dangerous” to sea life—but if everyone in the U.S. switched from plastic to reusable cutlery, it would stop the use of more than 100 million plastic forks, knives, and spoons.

4. Buying in bulk

Although many grocery stores’ bulk bins have temporarily closed due to COVID-19, purchasing in large quantities, along with meal planning, can still be an effective way to minimize the number of individual packages sold. And switching from prepackaged foods to the bulk aisle can save around 56 percent on food costs—what NPR’s The Salt described as “a permanent two-for-one sale on dozens of organic foods and ingredients.”

5. Choosing personal care products without microplastics

Personal care products with microbeads, such as certain toothpastes and soaps, are a major contributor of microplastics, or small plastic fragments that build up in the environment as a byproduct of plastic products breaking down. One study of particular exfoliant products found that between 4,500 and 94,500 microbeads were released per use. Microplastics can get stuck in fish gills and enter animals’ digestive tracts, which can be problematic given microplastics’ ability to absorb and retain potentially toxic substances.

6. Publicly demonstrating your commitment to cutting down your plastic footprint

When artist and activist Dianna Cohen first started learning about plastic pollution, she said her first instinct was to find ways to clean up the plastic in the oceans—but she realized those efforts would pale in comparison to the new plastic waste generated every day. “The bigger picture is: we need to find a way to turn off the faucet. We need to cut the spigot of single-use and disposable plastics, which are entering the marine environment every day on a global scale,” she said in her TED Talk. She founded the Plastic Pollution Coalition, which is collecting signatures on eight petitions, from calling on Amazon to reduce plastic use to encouraging legislators to adopt anti-plastic policies. The coalition is also encouraging people to take the 4Rs Pledge to refuse disposable plastic, reduce your plastic footprint, reuse single-use items, and recycle what you can’t refuse, reduce, or reuse. In addition, anyone can become a member of the Plastic Pollution Coalition and join 1,200+ businesses and individuals, including Ben & Jerry’s and actors Fran Drescher, Jeff Bridges, Jane Fonda, and more.




 

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