It’s a hot day and you’re out and about. Maybe you grab a bottle of water from the nearest convenience store. You take off your facemask to drink, and it falls to the ground accidentally. That’s OK, you have a spare. And after you finish that bottle of water, there’s no garbage can handy, so you just set it down on the sidewalk and figure “the city will clean it up.” But sadly, your momentary decisions with that facemask…that plastic bottle…maybe the plastic shopping bag it came in…become long-term problems for the environment. According to a National Geographic report, more than 40 percent of plastic is used just once before being thrown away.
When refuse is left absentmindedly on the ground, it is often washed away into storm drains. From there it gets washed into our local waterways. Aside from harming wildlife such as fish, turtles, ducks, and other animals directly, as it decays and breaks down, the microplastics decrease oxygen levels in the water, further inhibiting plant growth and choking out aquatic life.
Consider these daunting facts:
- Every day the average person walks or drives by 12,000 items of litter.
- The lifespan (decomposition time) of some commonly littered items:
- Cigarette butt: 1-5 years
- Plastic bag: 10-20 years
- Aluminum can: 200-500 years
- Glass bottle: 1 million years
What can be done? Well, the best way to address the problem is by starting at the source and preventing our trash from becoming litter in the first place.
- Don’t litter: Carry waste until you can find a trash can — or, even better, recycling container! — to dispose of it properly.
- Make sure your trash and recycling bins are covered and tightly secured to avoid waste from being scattered by the wind or animals.
- Avoid creating refuse in the first place: Reduce and reuse! Reusable water bottles, straws, shopping bags, and food containers are all great ways to minimize single-use plastics. Avoid single-serve portions and product packaging that creates excess waste. Invest in higher-quality items which will last longer and require replacing less often. And consider repairing items when appropriate, rather than throwing them away.
- Recycle: Check your city’s waste management website for which products can be recycled and which cannot. Be mindful not to “wish-cycle,” as it can contaminate your recycling and cause materials that could otherwise be recycled to end up in the trash.
- Compost: If you’re not interested in composting yourself, check your neighborhood list-serve or city’s waste management website for options for free waste drop-off collection spots. There are also paid subscriptions available for home pickup that allow you to compost without having to fuss with handling or processing the compost itself. What could be easier?
- Organize or join a neighborhood clean-up event: Many civic groups host such events. Even if you pick up a single piece of rubbish a day, that’s 365 items a year that you’ve ensured won’t end up in our area waterways!
- Educate: Set an example for friends and family on how to reduce your garbage footprint!
Every effort, by every person, makes a difference in the big picture. So if you’re just getting started, choose one thing from the above list that you can easily incorporate into your daily routine, and then make it a habit. Once that becomes second-nature, consider making one more small change. Because every small change has a major, and long-lasting impact. Join us in doing your part to be a friend to the environment!