There’s no denying it—the world is addicted to disposable products. But did you know that every year an estimated 8 million tons of plastic ends up in the ocean (and then possibly in that halibut you’re ordering off the menu)?
That’s what Jo Ruxton has learned during the past eight years while researching her upcoming documentary A Plastic Ocean, which presents her findings: that there is virtually no part of the ocean left untouched by plastic—which creates potential health problems throughout the food chain.
Where does all this plastic live? When we think we’re recycling our water bottles and take-out containers, what really happens is that many of them are not recycled at home but shipped to Asia, where, according to Ruxton, only a certain type of plastic is wanted and much of the rest ends up in rivers and, ultimately, oceans. “It’s a curse. It doesn’t go away,” she says.
With so much plastic—literally tons—in the world’s oceans, it breaks up over time and into smaller and smaller pieces and mixes with plankton, the source of food for many fish and whales. So are we eating plastic when we eat fish?
According to Ruxton, whatever toxins that may be associated with the plastic are released in the digestive process and end up in fatty tissues of fish. These same toxins have been associated with cancer, autoimmune disease, infertility, developmental disorders, and endocrine disruption.
What can we do? “The biggest danger to our planet is thinking somebody else will save it,” says Ruxton. “Just knowing about the issue can change your behavior.”
Here are seven small changes Ruxton suggests you make right now to help with the problem.
1. Drink tap water and carry it in your own bottle
“Four thousand plastic bottles are consumed every second worldwide,” says Ruxton. “We’re lucky we have good tap water—we should take advantage of it.” Plus, reusable water bottles are only getting cuter.
2. Contain yourself
Like gym bags, there’s a tote bag for everyone these days—wouldn’t you rather carry one of those rather than lugging a bunch of plastic bags around? And as far as produce goes: “People at the checkout counter give me a look, but there’s really no need to put all your fruit in a plastic bag,” says Ruxton.
3. Revamp your beauty routine
Opt for (natural) bar soap and crystal deodorant. “Both last longer but work just as well as body wash and regular stick deodorant,” says Ruxton.
4. Refuse straws
“You learned to drink from a cup so many years ago. You don’t need straws!” Ruxton says.
5. Use silverware rather than plastic cutlery
Sure, it requires you cleaning up after you eat—but all those plastic forks and knives are damaging the planet.
6. Use refillable containers and refillable lighters (or use matches)
“They look so cool anyway, why use a plastic lighter?” says Ruxton. Plus, refillable containers—for cleaning products, beauty products, and food—save you money.
7. Buy a fountain pen
“It makes your writing look a lot better anyway,” says Ruxton.