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Plastic consumption is killing us … here’s how to cut back

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Unless we want to be buried in our own trash, we need to break the cycle of using so much plastic.

Here’s a horrific statistic for you: half of all plastic that has ever existed was made in the last 13 years.

Suddenly the whole premise of WALL-E doesn’t sound so far-fetched, does it? According to The Atlantic, industrial ecologist Roland Geyer and a team of researchers have published the first in-depth accounting for all plastic that has ever been made in the entire world … and it’s a lot.

The number is so big as to defy human comprehension: 8,300 million metric tons since 1950. Of this, 6,400 million metric tons has outlived its usefulness and become waste; 79 percent of that waste is sitting in landfills or the natural environment, 12 percent has been incinerated, and just 9 percent has been recycled.

The Atlantic notes that the low recycling rate for plastic isn’t necessarily due to consumer negligence, but the notorious difficulty in recycling plastic. It’s usually more difficult to reliably recycle than it is to just make new plastic — and since plastic lasts forever, the old stuff accumulates. Sometimes old plastic melts and mixes with organic material to form a new kind of stone that scientists have named “plastiglomerate.” They posit that future generations will mark the Anthropocene period by our use of plastics.

That’s bleak enough, but plastic doesn’t just harmlessly accumulate. Most plastics leach hormone-like chemicals that have detrimental effects on human health and catastrophic consequences for the environment at large, from contaminating groundwater to turning male fish into female fish.

Plastic is so ubiquitous — and so useful — that it seems unlikely we will be able to reverse this trend anytime soon. But like everything, supply is controlled by demand. At the very least, we can start being mindful about our own consumption of plastic.

Luckily, there are great alternatives to everyday plastic available, from the popular Yeti to old school glass jars, and even stainless steel baby bottles and sippy cups with silicone spouts. If you’re thinking outside the kitchen, companies are now offering products like bamboo calculators and bamboo keyboards to help break our dependence on plastic.

Granted, many of us aren’t able to shell out hundreds for bamboo keyboards — but even a small change in household plastic consumption can make a big difference. And unless we want to buried in our own trash, it’s a change we all need to make.

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