REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE: This mantra has been drilled into our heads for most of our lives. And while it initially brought necessary widespread awareness to the problem of waste, it’s failed us in terms of truly keeping our Earth clean.
Single use products have brought ease & efficiency into our lives, but also an influx of waste into the world. Relying too heavily on the recycling part of the 3 R’s gives consumers & producers a reason to keep increasing this waste. But the reality is that most waste isn't recycled, and recent changes have made it significantly worse. Waste is now *officially* a crisis.
When I created Bubbsi, I didn't want to put more plastic into the world. I'm proud to say that we have designed an innovative sustainable package system, with reusability being a key principle of the Bubbsi brand ethos.
In this post, follow along as we discuss the Reduce / Reuse / Recycle conundrum, the recent changes in recycling (it's fascinating, trust me) and why we’re hoping to help families reduce and reuse instead.
Image courtesy of TerraCycle
The problem with plastic waste
We consume A LOT.
A study by the Beverage Marketing Corporation found in 2017 that more than 2,000 single use plastic bottles were consumed per second in the United States. However, only about 23% of these bottles are recycled, while the rest find their way to landfills or the ocean.
According to earthday.org, about 25 million tons of the plastic that is produced annually ends up in the oceans. To put things into perspective, imagine pouring one garbage truck’s worth of packaging into the ocean every minute. If this continues, estimates show that by 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans.
That’s concerning for us and for future generations to come.
Almost every species of marine life, from large whales down to deep sea creatures and microscopic organisms, is deeply affected by the amount of plastic in the oceans. Even the Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest coral reef, is dying, in part due to this pollution.
And to make matters worse, plastic has a lasting impact. A plastic bottle or bag takes about 1,000 to 1,500 years to decompose. Because of this long decomposition time, the plastic litter just swirls around the ocean, sometimes in large garbage patches, until it is ingested by a creature. This plastic can disrupt their digestive systems, causing some marine life to starve and die.
Plastic pollution in the oceans also has drastic implications for humans.
Plastic can release toxic chemicals into the water, affecting surrounding wildlife and anyone that comes into contact with it. Exposure to these chemicals can lead to cancer, birth defects, and endocrine disruption. Furthermore, about half of the marine life specific that contain pieces of plastics end up on our dinner plates.
So how did we get into this plastic situation?
The information in this section is a summary of a 99% Invisible podcast (episode 341), which we highly recommend you listen to!
In addition to the increased consumption of single use plastic products, there are two huge issues that have contributed to our waste problem - our overdependence on recycling and Operation National Sword.
It all started in 2011- when China joined the World Trade Organization. During this time, China became a major global exporter, selling goods all over the world in giant shipping containers. And instead of coming back to China empty handed, they decided to fill up their containers with recycling. This whole process was extremely cost-efficient, both for China and for cities around the world. And as a result of this mutually beneficial cycle, China became one of the world’s biggest recyclers. All of our waste was sorted here, but actually sent there for recycling.
Over time, there was a change in attitude. In 2016, a documentary called Plastic China was released. It depicted the grim process behind breaking down materials, mostly foreign waste, at an informal recycling facility in a small town in China. Then, two years later, China enacted a policy- National Sword, which banned four categories of foreign recyclables and 24 types of imports. They also got rid of informal recycling plants and started to develop newer, safer, and more efficient recycling systems.
While this proved to be steps forward for China, the rest of the world has found itself in trouble. Suddenly, many materials that were previously recycled aren’t anymore and instead end up in landfills or incinerators instead.
A movement is growing as individuals and organizations realize that recycling is not the most effective means of conserving the environment. Recycling still enables us to consume lots of plastic, and thus can encourage pollution and waste in some cases. With less access to recycling facilities, plastic usually ends up in landfills or oceans instead.
Bubbsi's refillable Shampoo + Wash with its value refill size
What should we do? #reducewaste
It's impossible to change your lifestyle overnight, but we believe strongly in the #reducewaste movement which places an emphasis on reducing and reusing materials. In a great article in Scientific American, Ecologist (and friend!) Matt Wilkins argues that the onus should be less on individual consumers, and more on our legal systems and producers / manufacturers. Producers should be incentivized to be more aware and responsible for the entire lifecycle of their products and planning for reuse. Consumers should demand that government and corporations provide access to lower waste options.
As more and more people are becoming aware of our plastic predicament and the benefits of reducing and reusing, we are starting to see small but crucial steps forward.
A few examples: In 2018, Starbucks announced their mission eliminate plastic straws globally by 2020. More recently, Haagen-Dazs and Tide have announced plans to test reusable packaging for their products. Bubbsi is playing our part by packaging our formulas in nontoxic food-grade silicone bottles that are made to be refilled with our value size offering.
Taking steps towards reducing and reusing plastic is not an easy feat, especially in our daily family lives. I would love to live a zero waste lifestyle, but it's not going to happen overnight. What we can do is start to talk more loudly about the problem and take small steps to shift to a more Earth-friendly lifestyle.
In the next few weeks, I hope to share some ideas for reducing plastic waste in our daily family lives!
Shop Bubbsi's clean coconut oil skincare products in refillable soft silicone bottles. Good for the body, good for the Earth!