It takes approximately 500 years for a single piece of plastic to degrade, which means that every single plastic bag, bottle, cup, straw or toothbrush that you have ever used in your life is sitting in landfill, on a beach or at the bottom of the ocean.
Scientists are finding microplastics in the food we eat, the water we drink and even in the air we breathe. According to a study by the University of Newcastle, Australia, the average human consumes about a credit card’s (5 grams) worth of plastic every week. Unfortunately, there haven’t been any long-term studies done to tell us what this is doing to our health.
Recycling isn’t always the answer because plastic is downcycled, meaning that it can only be reused six times before it becomes unusable. Even when it is “recycled”, it’s turned into things like board shorts, which shed microfibres when you wash them.
Biodegradable plastic isn’t an ideal solution either. It perpetuates a “buy-and-throw-away” mentality and requires sunlight to breakdown. Those made from corn or potato starch contribute to an increase in food prices, land use, pesticides and fertilisers.
So, what can you do? Here are 15 ways that you can reduce your plastic footprint.
1. Just say no
The best waste is the waste that we never create. Everything that you use has a footprint, whether it comes from the CO2 during the transportation and manufacturing it or the pesticides and fertilisers from growing it. If you don’t need a bag, bottle, stir stick or straw, don’t take one. To say “I don’t want plastic” in Thai, say “My ow plas-teek.”
2. Sign petitions
Go to thepetitionsite.com and search for “Join the fight against plastic pollution” sponsored by the WWF. You can also search under “Coca-Cola, your plastic waste is choking us.” Then go to change.org and search for #NoFreePlastic – this is directed at Thailand’s Minister of Natural Resources and asks the government to charge for plastic bags.
3. Eat less fish
A survey conducted by NGO The Ocean Cleanup found that 46% of the plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch was discarded fishing nets. These “ghost nets” can continue to kill marine mammals for years to come. Until a solution is found, reducing your consumption of fish or not eating it all are the only options. If that doesn’t convince you, understand that fish can also be contaminated with microplastics, antibiotics, mercury and other toxins.
4. Carry a backpack or reusable bags everywhere
Get about a dozen and leave a handful in your car and some by the door of your house as a reminder. In addition to buying reusable bags for groceries, buy some smaller ones for produce. If you want to say “I don’t want a bag” in Thai, it’s “My ow toong.”
5. Stop buying bottled water
Instead, carry a reusable water bottle or cup everywhere. There are water machines in every town centre around Phuket that filter using UV light and only cost B1 per litre. You can also buy an inexpensive water filter for less than B850 at lazada.co.th. For restaurants, bars, hotels and offices, Generation Water sells a machine that creates drinking water out of thin air.
6. Boycott companies that are the worst offenders
A 2018 survey conducted by Greenpeace found that Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Nestlé were the worst plastic polluters in the world. Send a message to them by not buying their products (this includes all of their brands and subsidiaries as well).
7. Reuse when you can
Plastic bottles and glass jars make great places to store coins, stationery, plants, soap, shampoo, cleansers and general knick-knacks.
8. Recycle when you can’t
Even though recycling plastic isn’t ideal, sometimes it’s unavoidable. You can take plastic to several recycling facilities around the island. A list of them can be found here. In addition to plastic, they will also take glass, metal, cardboard and paper.
10. Shop at zero-waste stores
Zero Waste Phuket and Zero Waste Shop Phuket are both located in Thalang. They sell an assortment of household cleaners and toiletries as well as plastic substitutes. Bring containers to refill and you are charged by weight.
11. Support businesses that are trying to go plastic-free
Two large hotel chains that have banned straws and toiletry bottles at their properties are Marriott and Hilton. Some local businesses that are doing it right include Gallery Café, Wilson’s Cafe, Project Artisan, Vegan Booty Burger and Sea Bees Diving, to name a few. Research businesses before using their services.
12. Say no to plastic wrap
SuperBee wax wraps are an eco-friendly alternative, and it pays women in Chiang Mai a living wage to make them. They work great with anything you would use with plastic wrap. You can find them at the Zero Waste Shop Phuket or online at superbee.me
13. If you are a restaurant/café/bar/hotel owner/manager, move to biodegradable or reusable cutlery and packaging
14. Repair rather than replace
We throw out a lot of things that can simply be repaired. For example, you can fix the broken zip on a backpack with a paper clip and some Sugru. Many plastic products can be fixed with duct tape or super glue, and you can replace the insoles of your shoes rather than buying new ones. There are plenty of YouTube videos with instructions on how to fix household items.
15. Download the Eevie app
This is an eco-habit tracker that will remind you to reuse your cups, bottles and bags and make you more aware of your daily habits.
Innovations in science and technology may eventually help rid us of the scourge of plastic. In Ecuador, they’ve discovered a mushroom that can digest it, and in the United States, two students have engineered a bacteria that breaks it down into CO2 and water.
However, none of these solutions is a foregone conclusion. If we want the future to have less trash, we have to work towards it, which means making conscientious choices every day.
Reduce, reuse, recycle needs to become our mantra. Yes, it is inconvenient having to carry your own bags, bottles and containers, but it’s a small price to pay for clean air to breathe, water to drink and food to eat.
So don’t forget to say “My ow plas-teek.”
Palmer Owyoung is an environmental activist working with the Kamala Green Club and the Asia Pacific Environmental Network (APEN) to keep Phuket beautiful and clean.