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Plastic or Paper? Neither! Why You Should Say No to Single Use Items

Plastic waste polluting our oceans

Right now, around 400 million tonnes of plastic is wasted every year with almost half of that being produced for single use purposes. These scary statistics have made us change our focus to more environmentally friendly alternatives; or so we thought. This article will look at how environmentally friendly these alternatives really are and other steps we can take to positively impact our planet.

Plastic vs paper straws

We all know that at face value paper straws are much more environmentally friendly than plastic ones even if they are less practical and get soggy. It can take up to 200 years for a plastic straw to decompose unlike paper which is 100% recyclable and can decompose in as little as 2 weeks. However, paper straws are not all they are made out to be. It has been found that a lot of the single use paper straws actually have a plastic coat around them that means they cannot be recycled and take much longer to decompose. While this is not the case for all paper straws, you are not always being as eco-friendly as you think. Another issue with paper straws is the process they go through to be made. The energy used to make the straws produce a lot of greenhouse gases. As more trees get cut down, less carbon dioxide can be absorbed from the atmosphere, making the climate crisis a cyclical problem. The deforestation also directly affects wildlife by destroying habitats, affects people who rely on the forest for shelter and essential materials, disrupts water cycles and increases soil erosion.

Sea turtle conservation

Sea turtle conservancy is a non-profit organisation founded by Joshua B. Powers in 1959, giving the organisation over 60 years of success in raising awareness of the danger the turtles are in.

Along with WWF and the work they do to protect endangered animals and habitats with their adoption schemes, the number of sea turtles is on the rise, with the Caribbean green turtle no longer on the verge of extinction. Sea turtles are a keystone species meaning they have an influence on all other species in their order. Without them, lots of other wildlife and fauna will suffer. While sea turtle conservation has be ongoing for many decades, a viral video in 2017 showing a plastic straw being removed from a turtle's nose really kickstarted the save the turtle's campaign. We were all aware that plastic was bad for our environment and planet however I think this video could have been the pivotal point in our awareness. I know it certainly was for me and a lot of people in their early 20's as we were just coming into our viral video era with Vine and Instagram increasing in popularity. Banning plastic straws and campaigning for paper straws instead was a hot topic.

Covid effects on the climate

The pandemic affected every single person and changed the way we live our lives. Lockdown caused us all to stay at home which was a difficult time for everyone in one way or another. The lockdown did cause a temporary decrease in greenhouse gas emissions but saw an increase in single use items such as masks, gloves, and vaccination needles. Not being able to travel by car or plane played a big part in the temporary decrease of GHG emissions but this decrease didn't last long. However, since the pandemic, 60% of consumers have been making more environmentally friendly, sustainable, and ethical purchases, from both shopping locally and from small businesses. During the pandemic, the number of new businesses started in the UK increased by 14% compared to 2019. A lot of these businesses main focus is to be sustainable and ethical with their products or services. Even though it is found that 71% of the global greenhouse gas emission causing global warming is emitted by just 100 companies, every little helps. Choosing to support small sustainable businesses push us in the right direction for fighting climate change and protecting our earth.

What can we do to help?

Reducing the amount of single use items, whether they are paper or plastic, will help the environment by reducing the amount of waste produced and emissions emitted while making these items. Reducing waste and recycling items will also play a huge part in getting the world back on track in regard to climate change. Opting for reusable items such as straws and cups makes the earth a greener place. You are often rewarded in places such as coffee shops if you bring your own reusable cup, by getting your drink for a discounted price. For the wildlife, especially sea turtles, adoption will allow organisations to continue their work at raising awareness and protecting species.

As of right now, on the day I am writing this, we only have 6 years and 155 days left to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees. If that's not a wake-up call, I don't know what is.


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