The blue dot. Our Earth wouldn't be the warm, life-giving planet that we know and love without water. As residents of Earth, we are lucky that the oceans cover 70% of the globe.
The oceans regulate our climate, produce over half the world's oxygen, drive many economies, and provide us with ingredients for food and medicine. We rely on our oceans, but we are causing them and their inhabitants great harm.
Annually, 8 million tons of plastic wind up in the ocean, creating choking hazards for wildlife, like birds and turtles. Worse, it is breaking down into microplastics, which some animals may mistake for food and ingest. There have been documented cases of sea turtles starving to death because their stomachs are full of plastic.
Humans are also eating plastic. Microplastics are finding their way into our food and water supplies. According to plasticoceans.org, we may eat 40 pounds of it in our lifetimes, or the equivalent of one Lego every week. Scientists are not sure yet what this means for our health, but it becomes more apparent every day that we need to make some changes.
Here are some ways we can help:
Most communities have a recycling program of some kind. Increasing the amount of plastic that is recycled will reduce the amount of garbage that enters the ocean.
According to Recycle Across America, we are only recycling at a rate of 21.4%. Once we reach 75%, the recycling industry will have created an estimated 1.5 million jobs and reduced CO2 in an amount equivalent to removing 55 million cars in America.
What to Do With Plastic Bags
Bags and other soft plastics are challenging to recycle, as they may become stuck in machinery. Check with your local recycling company to see if they accept this kind of plastic.
You can also reduce your use of plastic bags by choosing paper or, even better, reusable bags. Some stores, like Natural Grocers, are giving shoppers recycled cardboard boxes, alongside their other efforts toward sustainability.
You can also upcycle the plastic bags you use or find while picking up litter. The Spruce has a great collection of fantastic items you can create, including jump ropes, wallets, and sleeping mats.
Pick up Trash
Litter isn't just ugly and terrible for the planet; it attracts more garbage. Studies have shown that when someone notices waste in the environment, they are more likely to leave trash themselves.
You can help by picking up debris whenever you see it. In my area, hiking paths and campgrounds are magnets for glass bottles, wrappers, and other waste. When other locals and I clean these areas, we notice less trash accumulating later.
Support Mushroom Farmers and Researchers
Mushrooms are the most outstanding organisms, but often fly under the radar. These unassuming lifeforms are crucial to the health of many ecosystems, including old-growth forests. Even better, they can break down pollutants harmful to the environment in a process mycologists call mycoremediation, or mycorestoration.
For example, Paul Stamets and Battelle Laboratories discovered that oyster mushrooms can break down oil, leaving only its non-toxic components. The mushrooms were free of petroleum, and insects were later able to consume them and spread their spores.
Researchers have discovered that mushrooms can break down bio-hazards, heavy metals, and even plastics. You can support efforts to use mushrooms in remediation by learning to grow your own at home or by supporting companies like Fungi Perfecti.
Other Ways You Can Help
- Buy shade-grown coffee from companies like Arbor Day, which helps reduce deforestation due to agriculture.
- Make your own bars of soap! Brambleberry has the ingredients you'll need and guides to help you. This will reduce plastic waste in your home from plastic wrap and bottles.
- Shred and compost paper and leftover food; the environment and your garden will thank you for it.
Biodiversity is decreasing, and the oceans are becoming more acidic. Natural resources are being consumed and destroyed at an alarming rate, but we can change our story. We can and should do better.
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