Until now, our spending behaviour has been pretty much along a straight line: we buy; we use and we throw away… Convenient, maybe, but the billions of tons of waste generated is going to come back to haunt us!

Pledge #3 of the 28 Day Challenge builds on what we learned yesterday, by breaking the "buy, use, throw away" relationship with have with the products we consume.

Marcus Eriksen and Anna Cummins of the 5 Gyres Institute pledged to make popsicles at home instead of buying plastic-wrapped ones - a really simple way to replace disposable plastic packaging with a reusable (and arguably more fun) alternative. Supplied by Ocean Pledge.

What can I do?

These days, there is an entirely new way of thinking about plastic and all the things we use and buy. One that moves from our linear way of thinking (buy, use, dispose), to a more circular model in which the component parts of the products we used can be extracted, reassembled and reused for something else. In this way, we can avoid all waste and ensure that precious resources stay within the loop.

What it means for you:

  • REFUSE what you do not need, especially disposable and single-use items. 
  • REDUCE what you do need – use fewer resources.
  • REUSE by buying second hand and swapping.
  • RECYCLE what you cannot refuse, reduce, or reuse.
  • ROT (compost) – return what you can to the earth.

Make your pledge a permanent commitment by leaving an Ocean Pledge.

Why does it matter?

At the current rate, there will be 12 billion tons of plastic in landfills by 2050. Our throw-away culture has resulted in more waste than we, and the planet can handle. Every year, as much as 12.7 million tonnes of plastic end up in our oceans - that’s such a waste!  Plastic is strong and made of precious oil, why do we waste it so frivolously?!

As you can see, most plastic is used for throw-away products. Credit: Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung [CC BY 2.0]

Because of the near-indestructibility of plastic, it does not just disappear. Rather, when exposed to the sun, it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces. These pieces are often mistaken for food by marine and terrestrial animals. Small animals eat smaller pieces of plastic. Larger animals eat larger pieces of plastic. Through the food web, all of these pieces of plastic accumulate as animals feed on one another, ultimately ending up on our plates. Discarded plastic also leaches toxic chemicals into the soil and water. 

If we want to make a difference, we really need to get away from the idea of using something just once and then throwing it away. For plastic, which isn’t biodegradable,  there is no such thing as away... In fact, 79% of all plastic made still exists in some shape or form today and most of that missing 21% has been incinerated rather than recycled.

Our consumption of single-use plastic is leaving a permanent mark on our oceans and the environment at large. The clean-up task ahead of us is going to be tough, so let's not make it worst! Credit: CircleFace [CC BY-NC 2.0]

Myth-busting: Reusable items are an inconvenience

Reusable items are not an inconvenience, but our forgetfulness can definitely create this idea. The reusable coffee cup or shopping bag is great to have, but when we forget them, then they suddenly become “inconvenient”. It has nothing to do with the product, but actually, is all to do with our perception.

From our experience, while it can seem like an inconvenience at first, it quickly becomes a habit. You learn to leave your reusable bags in your car after washing them, you learn to grab your coffee mug when you grab your keys, you learn to use your reusable produce backs as reminders that you are out of potatoes, etc. At the end of the day, remembering to put an item in your bag or car is as much of an inconvenience as having to find a bin to dispose of something single-use.

A common misconception, particularly during the current public health crisis, is that single-use items are more hygenic/safer than reusable alternatives. This belief has led to a huge increase in plastic pollution, and it's unfortunate that it's based on an incorrect assumption. Although single-use items certainly are often sanitary, so are reusable options that you clean properly - plus you get the added benefit of a better quality product, be it a better fitting face mask, or a travel mug that keeps your coffee warm longer. Once again, we need to push back against that myth of inconvenience!

Reusable items are also a great way to express your individuality - and if you're just starting the change to reusables from single-use items, these are also some great gift ideas that aren't going to be wasted (see Pledge #2).

Who can I follow?

Meet Bea Johnson. She is the woman who started the whole zero-waste movement back in 2006. In fact, she got so good at it that she managed to boast nothing more than a jar’s worth of waste in an entire year, for a family of 4!

Obviously, we can’t all be Bea Johnson, but we can start by making little changes in our own lives. Because little changes are the beginning of shaping new realities and before you know it, bam, it’s a new unconscious behaviour!

Take the 28 Day Challenge! Make your Ocean Pledge!

This post is part of the #28DayOceanPledgeChallenge! You can find the other 27 posts and challenges on the Two Oceans Aquarium website, or by signing up for the Challenge newsletter below to receive one challenge a day for 28 days: