Please, PLEASE, cut down on your plastic use

I am BEGGING YOU. This isn’t a drill anymore — plastic is EVERYWHERE. And it’s a huge problem.

From the National Geographic June 2018 issue:

Because plastic wasn’t invented until the late 19th century, and production really only took off around 1950, we have a mere 9.2 billion tons of the stuff to deal with. Of that, more than 6.9 billion tons have become waste. And of that waste, a staggering 6.3 billion tons never made it to a recycling bin—a figure that stunned the scientists who crunched the numbers in 2017.

No one knows how much unrecycled plastic waste ends up in the ocean, Earth’s last sink. In 2015, Jenna Jambeck, a University of Georgia engineering professor, caught everyone’s attention with a rough estimate: between 5.3 million and 14 million tons each year just from coastal regions. Most of it isn’t thrown off ships, she and her colleagues say, but is dumped carelessly on land or in rivers, mostly in Asia. It’s then blown or washed into the sea. Imagine five plastic grocery bags stuffed with plastic trash, Jambeck says, sitting on every foot of coastline around the world—that would correspond to about 8.8 million tons, her middle-of-the-road estimate of what the ocean gets from us annually. It’s unclear how long it will take for that plastic to completely biodegrade into its constituent molecules. Estimates range from 450 years to never.

I want to point this specific part out to you: “It’s unclear how long it will take for that plastic to completely biodegrade into its constituent molecules. Estimates range from 450 years to never.”

We can only do so much to clean up what’s out there. So here’s what you can do to slow it down:

1. Stop using single use items

We all do it. Even me (hey, I never claimed to be perfect). But we can be better about this. One of most impactful things we can do is STOP USING STRAWS. There’s a great replacement coming to market soon for a traveling, collapsible straw, but in the meantime, just buy straws and take them with you if you have to — or just stop using them. K-Cups are just as bad, if not worse (they could wrap around the planet 10 TIMES). If you have to use them, make your own reusable ones. Buy compostable ones (though, those aren’t that great either). Cut down on your deliverable meal plan boxes, or at least choose one that doesn’t have as much single use plastic. I’ve found that Hello Fresh does the best with this (Blue Apron’s packaging is TERRIBLE for the Earth), so just be aware of what you’re contributing).

Globally, 18 percent of plastic is recycled, up from nearly zero in 1980. Plastic bottles are one of the most widely recycled products. But other items, such as drinking straws, are harder to recycle and often discarded.

I could go on for days about single use plastic bottles and bags, but I’ll spare you. So just don’t use them. Use reusable bags — keep them in your car, in your desk, in your spouses’s car… wherever it takes for you to remember to bring them in the store. Buy reusable produce bags to take with you. And FOR THE LOVE OF THE EARTH, stop buying plastic water bottles.

Meanwhile, ocean plastic is estimated to kill millions of marine animals every year. Nearly 700 species, including endangered ones, are known to have been affected by it. Some are harmed visibly—strangled by abandoned fishing nets or discarded six-pack rings. Many more are probably harmed invisibly. Marine species of all sizes, from zooplankton to whales, now eat microplastics, the bits smaller than one-fifth of an inch across.

2. RECYCLE EVERYTHING

And if you can’t when you’re out and about, take it home and do it. Make sure you actually can in your recycling bin — check out this list to see if you’re recycling correctly, or your items right to a recycling plant. Also pay attention to HOW to recycle in your town. Do your recyclables need to be washed? If so, rise them (but save water while doing it, ok?). Do your paper products need to be tied with twine? (Mine do, which is strange, but whatever, buy some twine and get it done).

3. Be more conscious about your purchases

Are you about to buy those brussels sprouts already chopped up, sitting in styrofoam, wrapped in plastic? Don’t. That tiny package will have a way bigger impact on our planet than it’s manufactuer ever intended (see that little blurb from NatGeo above), so just think twice before buying unnecessary waste.

If you can disrupt the cycle by not buying plastic at the source, hopefully we can slow down the amount being put back onto the planet.

From National Geographic:

“This isn’t a problem where we don’t know what the solution is,” says Ted Siegler, a Vermont resource economist who has spent more than 25 years working with developing nations on garbage. “We know how to pick up garbage. Anyone can do it. We know how to dispose of it. We know how to recycle.” It’s a matter of building the necessary institutions and systems, he says—ideally before the ocean turns, irretrievably and for centuries to come, into a thin soup of plastic.

There are things we can do to help this global problem. So let’s do them.

 

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A Non-Scientist’s #SparkofScience

This was originally written in in 2016 for Nautilus Magazine’s Spark of Science Issue. It has been updated for 2018.

I am not a scientist, but I am a science communicator.

As a web and social media producer for Climate Central, I’m surrounded in science daily. I tweet about rising CO2 levels. I write stories about the issues our country faces in a world with climate change. I create interactives showing what sea level rise projections could do to major cities around the world. I write social media video scripts about declining Arctic sea ice.

I always thought my spark of science came through my Earth 100 class at Penn State with Dr. Laura Guertin, a kick-ass marine geologist and professor who introduced me to the connection between educational technology and Earth science. Who better to teach me about our changing planet than an American Geophysical Union blogger AND #SparkofScience blogger?

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But after a bit of introspective thought, I found that Dr. G’s class was just a continuation of my love for the Earth.

When I was 3, I channelled Julia Butterfly Hill and hung out in a Redwood tree. My elementary, middle and high school years were spent RVing to federal lands all across the U.S. and Canada. I have spent countless hours hiking through our National Forests, and many more driving to National Parks. Grad school in Montana brought me to the dwindling glaciers of Glacier National Park , and curiosity has taken me from the White Rim Trail in Utah to Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park. I’ve blogged about my dedication of wilderness protection for the Wilderness Society, and been featured on National Parks Traveler.

My intrigue with wild places hasn’t peaked yet, but has turned into a fierce dedication to educating the public on what climate change will do to the natural world. And even though I’m not a scientist, I’m using my spark of science to tell everyone about it.

Here’s What You Should Do for the Planet This #EarthDay

Listen, change ain’t easy. I know that. But if it’s for the planet, you should be all in. So here’s what I’m doing this Earth Day, and you should join me.

1. Litter less, and work more on #2minutelitterpick. I’ve been picking up beach litter long before the #2minutebeachclean came around, but now it’s gaining some momentum as a Twitter hashtag (what isn’t these days?). It’s so easy to pick up some trash for two minutes on your way off the beach, down the street, and as you’re heading down the trail (just shove it in your backpack!). But it takes more than that — stop it at the source. Start committing to buying things with less packaging, and if you have to use plastic, PLEASE recycle it. A little goes a long way, and reduce, reuse, recycle still fits in the motto of Earth Day.

2. Give up straws. I have to admit — I’ve been trying this one, and it is HARD, especially when you’re out at restaurants and they just throw straws at you — literally. But just ask for no straw. Straws (and other plastics) are making their way into our waterways, choking up our oceans and literally choking our wildlife. Plastic is making its way into our food, too. #BanTheStraw is just the latest in the plastic-free movement (even McDonalds is doing it!,), behind the #BanTheBag movement, starring my favorite, the plastic bag. And it’s making waves — in July, Seattle will ban plastic straws and plastic utensils, and Scotland plans to ban plastic straws by 2019.

3. Plant a tree. Ok, people have been saying this for decades, and there’s a reason! Planting trees is one of the best things you can do for climate change, and trees are also just the best in general (I can’t source that information, because it’s just known to be true). If you can’t literally plant a tree because you don’t have the means, have someone else contribute for you! Companies like Tentree plant ten trees (you guessed it!) for every item you buy.

There are also many organizations you can donate to that will plant trees in regions that need it most. To start with a donation — Plant a billion from the Nature Conservancy, One Tree Planted, American Forests, and the National Forest Foundation.

If you need more suggestions, check out more campaigns on Earth Day Network.

Top 10 Climate Stories of 2017 — my first Climate Central byline

I wrote my first story for Climate Central!

Yeah yeah, I know I’m a little slow. Despite being there for 2.5 years writing copy for thousands of tweets and Facebook posts, and now for our newly-launched social videos, I’ve never written a bylined piece. But now I have!

I polled our social followers about what they thought the top stories of 2017 in the climate realm were, and they picked the following — the blockbuster hurricane season, new, terrifying sea level rise projections , the government (and its denial, among other things), Tesla and Elon Musk’s innovative projects across the world, the West’s terrifying wildfire season (which is never-ending, it seems), global heat records continually being broken, the social injustice of climate change, solar energy shining, the shift to transportation pollution being the biggest carbon emitter, and deadly heatwaves.

Read about it right over here.