It is very easy to wastefully consume a large amount of plastics. Between things like using water bottles and packing lunches with plastic bags, you can go through these things extremely quickly.

Strategies to reduce plastic waste:

Here are 3 simple solutions to help reduce overconsumption of plastics:
  1. Use less water bottles by purchasing a reusable water bottle. There are many great products with high ratings, see a few here: S'wellBobbleKlean Kanteen. All of these bottles are BPA free and eco-friendly.
  2. Pack your lunch in reusable bags instead of plastic bags. There are a variety of options for reusable sandwich or snack bags. See a few alternatives here: Lunch bagSandwich bag, Sandwich wrapSnack bagItzy.
  3. Reduce wasteful packaging by using reusable mason jars or bags to buy and transport food or water. You can buy foods such as: rice, grains, flours, pasta, soup mixes, beans, cereals, trail mixes, nut butters, sweeteners, dried fruits, nuts, seeds, herbs, spices, salts, peppercorns, teas, and coffee in bulk. Take your own containers to fill up at stores like Whole Foods. This strategy is eco-friendly, and it is usually much cheaper than buying packaged, brand name foods.  

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Why cutting down on plastic consumption will help the environment:

Plastics contribute to many negative impacts on the environment such as: climate change, ozone depletion, photochemical oxygen formation, acidification, and eutrophication (Rajendran, et al., 2014). 

Figure 1 shows that plastics alone contributes to 6% of total CO2 emissions. Additionally, figure 2 shows that plastics are recycled at the lowest rate, only 2-7%, out of all of the sub-sectors (iron and steel, cement, chemicals, paper, aluminum, etc.) contributing to industry CO2 emission. This means that plastics are a major contributor to CO2 emissions, and therefore to climate change, yet they are not being recycled at a high rate. This is another reason to cut down on your plastics consumption!

Figure 1. Total industry CO2 from fuels and process emissions (Rajendran, et al., 2014).

Figure 2. Estimated current global EOL material recycling rates (Rajendran, et al., 2014). Note that the first two columns contain the relevant information discussed on this website.

The fact that plastics contribute to climate change is extremely alarming, as climate change is one of the most severe problems facing our generation. Climate change threatens biodiversity, human security, compromises species migration patterns, contributes to sea-level rise, and decreases glacial snow pack, among other environmental impacts. Landfills, where the majority of these plastics end up, are the largest source of gasses contributing to climate change (Vergara, et al., 2012). 

Plastics also contribute to eutrophication, among the many other impacts listed. Eutrophication can lead to hypoxic water conditions which creates "dead zones" in which organisms cannot survive. Dead zone areas have increased drastically during recent decades due to increased coastal eutrophication (Kim, et al., 2013). While oligotrophic ecosystems may increase in biomass due to eutrophication, these conditions will favor certain organisms and make the environment less suitable for others at the same time, resulting in a loss of biodiversity. In coastal waters, eutrophication has resulted unsuitable conditions for sensitive species such as: coral reefs, sea grass beds, fishes, and shellfish (Erisman, et al., 2013). This loss of biodiversity will further impact the ecosystem in negative ways as well.

Erisman, J. W., J. N. Galloway, S. Seitzinger, A. Bleeker, N. B. Dise, A. M. R. Petrescu, A. M. Leach, and W. De Vries. "Consequences of Human Modification of the Global Nitrogen Cycle." Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 368.1621 (2013): 20130116. Print.
Kim, Il-Nam, and Dong-Ha Min. "Temporal Variation of Summertime Denitrification Rates in the Texas–Louisiana Inner Shelf Region in the Gulf of Mexico: A Modeling Approach Using the Extended OMP Analysis." Continental Shelf Research 66 (2013): 49-57. Print.
Rajendran, S., A. Hodzic, L. Scelsi, S. Hayes, C. Soutis, M. AlMa'adeed, and R. Kahraman. "Plastics Recycling: Insights into Life Cycle Impact Assessment Methods." Plastics, Rubber & Composites 42.1 (2013): 1-10. EBSCO. Web. 25 Feb. 2014.
Vergara, Sintana E., and George Tchobanoglous. "Municipal Solid Waste and the Environment: A Global Perspective." Annual Review of Environment and Resources 37.1 (2012): 277-309. Print.

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