Plastic Free July is an initiative started by the Plastic Free Foundation in 2011 that provides resources and ideas to help you (and millions of others around the world) reduce single-use plastic waste everyday. Since 1950, about 9 billion tons of plastic have been produced, with plastic consumption growing annually. Microplastics (fragments of any type of plastic less than 5 mm in length) are tiny pieces of trash that cause enormous problems in our oceans and waterways. Microplastics can clog the guts and gills of fish and marine invertebrates and can facilitate the accumulation of dangerous chemicals in the bodies or larger animals. Unfortunately, the solution is not as easy as just avoiding obvious single-use plastic items such as straws or plastic water bottles because of all of the hidden plastic that has made its way into products we use in our daily lives. Here are some less-conspicuous items that contain plastic that you can keep an eye out for and try to avoid.
Different forms of chewing gum have been popular around the world for centuries, but today most gum actually contains a mixture of plastic and other chemicals in the form of an ingredient called “gum base.” This is what gives gum its chewiness. Since most people are not aware of this, gum is commonly littered outdoors and the plastic from the discarded gum ends up in our waterways. Fortunately, there are now eco-friendly chewing gums on the market today that do not contain plastic.
Although it is one of the few beauty items that is almost always packed in a glass container, the liquid nail polish inside the jar contains plastic. When nail polish hardens and chips, it becomes microplastic particles. That means when your nail polish chips off in the water at the beach, microplastics are entering the ocean straight from your fingertips.
Glitter is simply many small pieces of shiny plastic. It is used in makeup, gift wraps, crafts, home decor, and many other items. It is so fine that it is virtually impossible to completely clean up once it is used. Glitter finds its way into our waterways through wastewater from our homes and runoff from landfill sites. Fortunately, there are plenty of fun, eco-friendly ways you can still add some sparkle into your life without harming the Earth.
Plastic is even in many products that appear to be made out of paper, such as coffee cups and tea bags. Paper coffee cups are often lined with polyethylene, one of the most common plastics, so that they can hold hot liquids. Bringing reusable cutlery and containers is an environmentally friendly alternative to “paper” products that might contain hidden plastic.
When it comes to clothing and sustainable practices, the topic of fast fashion is usually what comes to mind. “Fast Fashion” refers to cheap clothing produced rapidly by mass-market retailers in response to fashion trends, which often ends up in landfills when it becomes irreparably damaged or worn out. But did you know more than 60% of our clothing contains plastic? Many fabrics contain microplastics, which enter our waterways through wastewater leaving our homes after we wash clothes in the washing machine. Materials to stay away from are nylon and polyester. Check tags before purchase and look for clothing that is made from 100% natural fibers or use a washing bag to catch microplastics.
Bioplastics, also called “bio-based polymers,” are a kind of plastic material that is produced from what many people consider “natural” materials such as plant proteins, corn starch, or vegetable fibers. Products made from bioplastic are often labeled as “eco-friendly”, but unfortunately they cause many of the same issues as traditional plastics. Bioplastics can only properly break down in certain conditions (found in high temperature industrial composting facilities), and often just end up in the landfill or waterways where they can still cause ingestion or entanglement issues when they come into contact with animals.
Cigarette butts are the #1 littered item in the world. Many smokers mistakenly believe that the butts, which appear to be paper, will break down and biodegrade over time. Most cigarette filters are made of plastic and animals will often mistake cigarette butts for food. Cigarette butts also carry a heavy load of toxic materials that can be harmful if ingested or released into the water.