At this moment in history, we are at a crossroads. One path will carry us to certain catastrophe we can already see on the horizon, and one will take us back to safety. Plastic is ruining and ending life everywhere. It is in our water, it is under the ground we walk on, it fills the streets we drive down, it is in almost every aspect of our lives and every square centimetre of our homes. Think of it - every ballpoint pen you've ever written with. Every toothbrush you've ever used. Every bottle of water you've ever bought. Every zip lock bag. Every barbie doll or toy car. Every clothing peg. Every packet of crisps. Every balloon. Chances are, they're all still out there somewhere.
Perhaps the very worst thing about this whole disastrous situation is the nonchalance with which so many of us regard it. Videos like the below or like these powerful images of marine wildlife suffering because of our plastic problem have become the norm; something regularly featured on and just as often scrolled past in our social feeds. Often we simply choose to ignore them because they are too upsetting to watch... like ignoring the problem is a way of dealing with it. If a fire breaks out in the room you're in, and you choose to cover your eyes, does it stop you from being burned? I know it's unpleasant to see horrible things that we have no power to stop; but this is something we can. So seeing is important - no, it is crucial - to make us realise what's at stake if we don't do anything.
I know there is no point in wishing for a world without plastic - if we didn't have it, we wouldn't have almost of all of the technology which has enabled modern society to develop. But alongside overpopulation and the rapid destruction of the world's most vital natural resources, the alarming rate at which unsustainable plastic is being produced and carelessly dumped into the natural world spells disaster for every one of us if we don't get our act together, fast.
But there is good news in all of this... we can do it. It's not even that hard. It only takes a little bit of thought and conscious choices. How many of the items which fill our oceans and streets and homes are things we could replace with sustainable versions? The excuses we've used for too long just don't hold up anymore. We can't afford to be lazy about this. Companies and governments are the ones who should be obligated to make the necessary changes, but they prove time and again that it just isn't on their priority list, so we HAVE to take responsibility where they won't.
I know it can be easy to feel overwhelmed and utterly hopeless about problems so much bigger than ourselves. But what we need to understand is the we - all of us, every single individual on this planet - have a huge amount of power to make change. Think of the amount of things we use, consume and waste over the course of our lifetime... image if that entire body of plastic could be put together in one room (if it would even fit) for you to see. It is colossal. Our lives have an impact, and it is entirely our choice what kind of impact that is. Unlike situations we truly have no control over, this is one that we do.
I recently listened to an interview with Saturday Night Live legend and TV host Seth Meyers in which he recounted a piece of advice his dad gave him to which he credits the work ethic that lead to his success. He said there were multiple things life might throw at you that get in your way of achieving what you want. You can look back at those things and know there was nothing you could have done. But don't ever, ever let yourself be one of those things. Don't let yourself be a reason you didn't do what you want, because there is no worse feeling in the world than looking back and knowing you had the power to choose a different path for yourself, that you simply didn't take for no good reason.
And so we come back to the crossroads. This is a moment that will be looked back on, and no matter what we might say about the corporations and politicians and what they COULD have done, at least we will be able to look back and say what we DID do. And if enough of us start doing the right things now, we have the power to bring about the change the world so desperately needs. When will people understand that we are the ones with all power, if only we cared enough to weld it? Start with small things; replace those everyday plastic items you don't need. Here's three to get you started...
Make your phone case biodegradable
There's more downfalls to the constant re-makes and upgrades to phone models than just the money you have to spend on buying a new one. Think of how many phone cases exist in the world, and think of how many have to be thrown out every time the manufacturers changes their phone specs. There are loads of sustainable phone cases available though, from beautiful wooden designs to completely compostable cases like those made by eco-friendly company Pela, who have so far kept 122,317 pounds of plastic from being produced. Bonus: their designs feature a range of marine animals, so you are reminded of what you're helping save every time you pick up your phone (I went for a penguin). Check out their website for some awesome ideas on how to live with less plastic too.
Back to basics with bamboo toothbrushes
Long before the plastic toothbrush became the norm, humans used sticks and twigs with one frayed end to keep their teeth clean. Cleaning sticks date back to at least 3500 B.C. and are still used by some communities around the world today. With toothbrushes being one of those disposable plastic items people seem to have latched onto of late, lots of people are making the move to bamboo toothbrushes as an alternative. While some completely biodegradable ones are on the market which use hog hair as bristles (another traditional means of cleaning teeth), most bamboo brushes still use plastic for bristles, but always a recyclable kind that can be removed with pliers and added to your recycling bin before the bamboo brush goes in with your green waste. Personally I can vouch for Humble Brush who also sell bamboo cotton buds, and Bamwoo who plant a tree for every toothbrush they sell - get involved!
Ditch the disposable take-out
A lot of people are under the impression that the take-away coffee cups used by most cafes are recyclable because they look like they're made from cardboard, but the waxy sealant used on the inside means they are unable to be recycled about 999 times out of a thousand, with very few recycling plants having the tools needed to break this material down. With the sheer volume of hot bevvies grabbed on the go every single day, the waste is overwhelming. A lot of countries and cafe chains have introduced a 'latte levy' meaning anyone using a disposable cup needs to pay extra, or some offer a discount to those with reusable cups to incentivise waste reduction... the odd heroic company has actually done away with disposable cups altogether - it's bring your own or nothing.
But there are loads of options for sustainable coffee cups out there. My personal favourite is Australian brand Keep Cup, who I have been a devout follower of for some eight years now - in which time I have had just two cups. One was stolen, so I hope is still in use out there somewhere, and the other is in fact sitting next to my keyboard as I type, having just been put to good use on a coffee run. With glass or recyclable plastic cups in a range of sizes, their design-your-own offer makes getting one of these things fun, though if you're into buying local and reducing your carbon footprint, you'll find most good cafes sell them in house now. Keep Cup users prevent 8 billion disposable cups from going into landfill every year... go on and join in. (P.S. I've heard good things about Frank Green too, and they're stylish to boot.)