As a science teacher, I am always very aware of my environmental impact. My love for Mother Earth started as a young girl and has never wavered. However, my understanding of the issues and commitment to actions has drastically evolved over the years. The most impacting was my time living and teaching in Hawaii.
My husband got stationed to Kaneohe MCB Hawaii on the Island of Oahu. While we were there we took advantage of the beauty of the island but also found ways to give back to the land and the people. We worked as NOAA's annual whale count site leaders, improved the community with Habitat for Humanity, and participated in cleaning up the iconic beaches we were fortunate enough to live on. These gorgeous beaches were unfortunately continuously wrecked by the Great Pacific Garbage patch.
Seeing first hand the amount of visible plastic or marine debris washing up on our beach was upsetting, but for the most part, it was easily collected and removed. Then came the gutwrenching realization that the holes you could see on the plethora of bottles were not human-caused rather they came from animals trying and succeeding in eating this plastic garbage. Now if that isn't bad enough here is the kicker, most of the plastic washing up was not even easily visible but is found in the form of microplastics.
Plastic is a man-made substance that does not decompose back to natural elements within any reasonable amount of time, think 500+ years. Nor is it efficiently recycled despite our best efforts. Instead, it just breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces until the plastic water bottle you needed for those 5 minutes is millions of pieces of plastic. Those tiny pieces of plastic, if put back together, would still equal the same quantity of plastic used to make that original bottle. But now they are so small, that they move through our ecosystems "unnoticed" and can be eaten by all types of animals including plankton. Yes, plankton, the microscopic organisms that are at the base of our aquatic food pyramids!
Microplastics are a huge man-made issue that have a number of environmental impacts beyond what I mentioned above. I do not have the answers to these issues, and I hope that the projects that are working on tackling this global disaster at large and comprehensive levels continue to get attention and support. I have faith in humanity and our innovation and drive to solve the problems we cause because well... thinking of a world where my daughter grows up with more plastic in the oceans than fish is quite unbearable.
So here is my challenge to you!
Every July there is a big movement around trying to get people to be more conscious about their plastic usage. Specifically their single-use plastic usage, items that we use on an average of 10 minutes (straws, forks, plastic beverage bottles, etc) then "throw-away". These single-use items cause environmental impacts as they "break down" for the 400+ years after you are gone. I want you to consider your single-use plastic footprint and try to find ways to reduce it. You do not have to go crazy eliminating all plastic from your life overnight, but start consciously thinking about it ways you can reduce your usage. How often you use something for convenience without considering the long term impacts of that choice.
Even your imperfect attempts at reducing or eliminating your plastic usage help out. One of my favorite quotes on this topic that I see circulating the internet goes something like this.
"Earth does not need 1 perfectly zero waste person, instead it needs millions of people doing what they can, each and every day"
Another statement I see often and want to share is something like this:
"It's only one straw... said 5 billion people that day"
Here is a place you can sign a Plastic Free July Pledge and get more information on the subject! I will also be posting a follow-up blog with my favorite items I use to reduce my single-use plastic footprint in the future!
Leave nothing but footprints! All of the pictures in this post were taken by me of our backyard beach in Hawaii, my classroom, and most when I was participating at a large scale cleanup at a National Wildlife Sanctuary. That site is off-limits to visitors and should be a pristine habitat yet, as you can see, it is greatly impacted by humans and our plastic waste!