What are single-use plastics and why are they a problem?

Single-use plastics come in many forms and are typically thrown away after only one use. From grocery bags to coffee lids and food containers, we are surrounded by single-use plastics in our daily lives. This trash makes up the majority of what eventually becomes aquatic debris, polluting our waterways and oceans. And we throw a lot away. It is estimated that in 30 years plastic litter will outweigh all fish in our oceans! But it’s not only oceans that are impacted by plastic waste. More than 22 million pounds of plastic pollution end up in the Great Lakes every year. Plastic not only pollutes our waterways, it endangers wildlife. Over 1 million marine animals die each year from plastic debris in our oceans.

 How does plastic get into our waterways?
Because it is lightweight and floats, even plastic correctly disposed of can make its way out of our landfills and into lakes, rivers, and oceans. Through wind and rain, a plastic bag thrown away in Minnesota can make its way into our local streams and rivers. These plastics then flow through larger rivers, eventually reaching our oceans where it is joined by debris from coastal cities and beaches. Unfortunately, plastic waste never fully biodegrades, it simply breaks down into tiny particles called microplastics which continue to pollute our waterways indefinitely.

 

What can I do to save wildlife?

There are many ways you can help wildlife and aquatic environments! Here are some simple steps you can take to reduce your use of single-use plastics:

  • Use reusable shopping bags and avoid plastic bags whenever possible
  • Bring your reusable water bottle with you
  • Pack school lunches in reusable food containers to cut down on plastic bag use
  • Need that morning cup o’ joe? Don’t forget your reusable to-go cup!
  • Politely decline plastic straws at cafes and restaurants
  • Buy used items and reduce the demand for plastics (and shop more affordably!)
  • Be sure to appropriately recycle all plastic items when you are finished with them

Many marine animals die or are harmed each year from discarded commercial fishing nets, which also contribute significantly to marine debris. Do your part by choosing ocean-friendly fish and seafood whenever you can by using the Monterrey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch guide and app.

Thank you for taking action to save wildlife and help keep our land and water clean and healthy!