BRRRING! The alarm on your phone goes off, and within the first minute of your day, you’re already touching the plastic case around your phone. Then you go to the bathroom and squeeze a blob of toothpaste out of a plastic tube onto your plastic toothbrush to start the day with a glowing smile. There’s a good chance that toothpaste contains teeny weeny plastic balls to give your teeth that extra shine. You’re five minutes into your day, and already you’ve been in contact with countless different plastics.
Plastics are everywhere; even in our bodies. But is plastic really so fantastic, or should we be paying more attention to our plastic use?
In 2009, scientists at the Stockholm Resilience Centre developed a model comprising nine planetary boundaries within which we as humans must stay within to keep the earth habitable for us. Recent research showed that we have exceeded the planetary boundary ‘New Entities’ (which includes plastics) by a long way.
The strange thing is that plastics were once invented in a competition that was looking for a non-animal alternative to the ivory billiard ball. A journey that started with good intentions has been derailed: there are now about 145,000 different kinds of plastic. And this material that can last for centuries is often thrown away after a single use – unfortunately not always in the trash. Plastic litter often ends up in nature, and in the water. We’ve all seen the harrowing images of turtles choking in fishing nets and that iconic seahorse with its tail wrapped around a cotton swab. But did you know that plastics are also slowly worn down into microscopic pieces that end up in our water, our fish and, ultimately, in our bodies?
That might not sound scary until we realize that these plastics have been shown to affect the hormone balance of animals and humans.
Luckily, there’s more and more happening on a global scale to tackle plastic pollution. In the first episode of our podcast, on a date with the planet (op date met de planeet, in Dutch), our guest Harmen Spek (Plastic Soup Foundation) explains that in 2024 there will be an international, legally binding treaty to combat plastic pollution. The Dutch government has listed the measures that will follow (link in Dutch).
Fortunately, various organizations and entrepreneurs are already taking the lead by adjusting their policies:
- In preparation for the ban on disposable plastic cups, the NS has started this campaign (in Dutch) to encourage travelers to bring their own coffee cups.
- Supermarkets are no longer giving out free plastic bags for fruit and vegetables, which is expected to save 700 kilos of plastic a year, and by the end of 2022 there should be a deposit system for cans (link in Dutch).
What can you do?
As much as we desperately need regulations to make big steps towards solving the plastic problem, it’s just as important to change our own behavior.
- In the end, the customer is always right. You can certainly have a positive impact by doing your grocery shopping consciously, and if that’s not enough for you, write to the big supermarket chains to share your concerns and expectations around plastic packaging;
- This might be obvious to some, but it’s good to think about plastics when you buy your clothes. Synthetic clothes are made of plastics that release microplastics when they’re worn and washed – an important reason to think about what you buy (link in Dutch) and especially how much you buy. By shopping consciously, you can ensure you throw away as little as possible – since plastic doesn’t decay, the garments discarded after one season don’t disappear either!
- Do you have synthetic items in your closet? Fortunately, you can buy filters for your washing machine that can catch the microplastics released from your clothes through wear and washing. By using filters, you can keep the water cleaner.
- Fortunately, more and more alternative products and services are appearing that can help you keep plastic out of your home. For example, consider doing packaging-free grocery shopping (at Albert Heijn in Rotterdam, the local packaging-free supermarket or Pieter Pot). There are also countless entrepreneurs responding to the call, such as Happy Soaps en Smyle.
- Do you want to lower your plastic footprint, but you don’t know where to start? The Plastic Soup Foundation has developed two brilliant apps. My little plastic footprint helps you reduce the amount of plastic you come into contact with every day. scans your cosmetics products for microplastics. Beat the Microbead scans your cosmetics products for microplastics.
A plastic-free future sounds almost utopian, especially if we realize what plastic has replaced. We could easily think our way out of many of the ways we use plastic in our society today – particularly single-use plastics. All we have to do is step away consciously from convenience. And we would get so much back if we did – namely a healthy and functioning planet. Will you join us?
If you want to know more, Tamar Stelling of de Correspondent is working on a series about the planetary boundaries – or in her words: the planetary clusterfucks. In an engaging, detailed way, she tells the story of the new entities.