It’s a tangle of sheets every morning, they practically drag on the floor behind you like a train on a dress while you walk to the bathroom–the first stop every morning. To help wake you up, you instinctively reach for the pump and dispense your favorite face wash. You grab the tub of moisturizer or squeeze the bottle of shampoo in your hair in the shower. You never pause for a moment to realize the plastic. The pump, the tub, the bottles, the jars, the containers–they’re all made of plastic.
Plastic, waste, trash—all different words to convey the same problem. It’s easy to forget how we go through day-to-day life realizing how the things we use–lotions, soaps, food–are all packaged in the material that contributes to the deterioration of our planet.
Plastic, as we now know, is a toxic product that releases harmful chemicals when it breaks down in landfills, polluting our air. Smaller pieces are often eaten by animals and not digestible. Plastic can outlast humans on this planet. So the impact it has on the environment is undeniable. And even knowing this, companies still use plastic for packaging.
While plastic is not the only substance that is contributing to the large waste problem, it is the most problematic. In 2013, the average American produced about 4.4 pounds of waste per day. That’s 1,361.4 pounds a year. Collectively, that’s 167 million tons of trash every year.
It’s easy to blame large corporations, hospitals, oil companies for being responsible for the detrimental climate change causing extinctions of entire species, the decay of entire ecosystems, and the declining quality of the air, but it is much more difficult to view how one individual person is also contributing.
The Green Run, which took place on March 7, was meant to highlight these issues. After a scenic jog along the beach, the event turned into a simple beach clean-up. At first, the beach looks clean. Miami Beach actually picks up large pieces of trash and keeps the surface of the beach appearing clean. But those larger pieces aren’t always the most dangerous ones. The organizers instructed everyone to pick up the smaller pieces. The cigarette filters, sandwich bags, the shards of broken plastic. Those are the pieces that get picked up by the wind, lost in the ocean, and ultimately pollute our home.
While the sheer math of it all seems overwhelming, progress can come with small, easy changes that together can make a huge difference.
Easy things everyone can do to reduce waste (in events):
Take a reusable water bottle.
Plastic water bottles and plastic cups litter the streets every day. Bottles are the most popular perpetrators for global warming and not to mention how those microplastics are often ingested and can negatively affect your health. There are so many options for reusable water bottles to fit any lifestyle or preference.
Limit the use of plastic bags.
Plastic bags are the fifth most common piece of trash found in beaches. With all the free totes companies give out, it’s a wonder single-use plastic bags are still such an abundant pollutant.
The most impactful change everyone can make is also the most beneficial for a person’s health. Cigarette butts with plastic filters are the most common piece of trash littering beaches all over. Like they said in the Green Run Beach Clean-up, these small pieces of plastic that go overlooked and ignored are the ones directly responsible for growing environmental corrosion. They’re easily lifted by the wind and small enough to be ingested by birds and ocean life.
Ask for a drink without a straw.
Straw alternatives are all the rage nowadays and even places like Starbucks have added paper straws to reduce the amount of plastic that ends up in our oceans. But those paper straws are no friend to the slow drinker and remembering to carry a metal straw is sometimes difficult. So instead, just opt for a no straw option. It’s so simple it’s almost crazy you didn’t think of it sooner.
- Don’t take more napkins than you need.
I think this tip can go for anything, not just napkins. But in events specifically, the biggest source of waste per person is a food-related waste. So take what you need. Don’t stack the napkins. Don’t use the extra plate. Be mindful of how much you’re using and if you really need it. The numbers are large but they start multiplying when each person uses more than they need. Paying attention is the first step in any sort of change.
While everyone contributes to the problem, it’s blind to not view climate change and the growing waste problem in the world as a women’s issue. Simply having a monthly period, buying pads, tampons, and other supplies are responsible for thousands of garbage in a lifetime. And the ever-profitable cosmetic industry only continues to increase the amount of plastic packaging they use.
Small things women can do to reduce cosmetic waste:
Use organic, biodegradable cotton rounds.
While wiping away your makeup, you might think the cotton pad you use is harmless and a better alternative to wiping your face on a bacteria-infected towel. However, those cotton pads have been bleached and processed so much that they are not biodegradable. A better alternative would be finding organic, biodegradable cotton pads.
Stop using makeup wipes.
This seems counterintuitive. Every girl remembers her first tube of mascara and vigorously wipes it away later that night with a makeup wipe. But these wipes are actually stripping to the skin and aren’t very effective in taking off makeup. An estimated 20 million pounds of single-use wipes are thrown out everyday, makeup wipes being a part of it. A large price to pay for something that doesn’t take off your makeup well.
Properly recycle any empty product containers.
Many cosmetic companies have policies that allow you to return the empty containers to the store, many even offer bonuses. If not, it’ll be worthwhile to view your state’s guidelines for recycling and see where to start.
About the author:
Sophie Herbut is born in Venezuela and raised in Miami. She loves reading and her favorite books are by Nancy Drew. This sparked her interest in investigating and directed her into a path of journalism, where she could use her research skills and writing skills and shine a light on issues of the underserved, discriminated, and voiceless. At 21, she graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in English at Florida International University, and at 23, she earned a Master’s degree in Journalism from New York University. Sophie is currently one of our ambassadors, devotes her time writing on other platforms, and is also working at a PR agency.