The Four Rs
Editor’s Note: On April 22, the world celebrates Earth Day. At the Sea Turtle Preservation Society, we make each day Earth Day. Please join our efforts to make a difference.
By Ashley Anderson
Plastic is a leading killer in the marine world. Each year, thousands of animals die from ingesting plastic. Unfortunately, sea turtles are one of the largest demographics for plastic interactions. Plastic is everywhere, and it will be here for a long time to come, but was that not the goal? However, we now use a material that should be in our possession for years as a single-use item. Many of us are plastic consumers, and so the health of our oceans can improve if we all make good choices in our plastic use. We all can be responsible by using the “4 Rs” method: reduce, reuse, recycle, and refuse.
While organisms living in the ocean have broken down tiny particles for thousands of years, the molecules that make up plastic have never been found anywhere in nature; therefore, no single animal can effectively break down plastic entirely. Wildlife is not equipped to process manmade products. This means that plastic never goes away; much will break down into microplastics that eventually fall to the bottom of the ocean. Microplastics act as harmful pollutants to the sea. Unless something in the deep ocean evolves, the plastic will never be broken down and will remain in the sea for years to come.
Tons of thousands of plastics are found in the oceans around the globe. One of the most common plastics in the deep ocean is plastic bags. What is a significant food source of a sea turtle? Jellyfish, of course. What do plastic bags look like? You guessed it – jellyfish.
It is becoming more apparent to individuals worldwide that plastic pollution is booming out of control, but it does not have to be. Most of us have heard of the Three Rs — reduce, reuse, and recycle – but a recently added fourth R – refuse – could make an even more significant impact.
Reducing your single-use plastic as well as other disposable items could change the oceans drastically. No matter how big or small the changes are; everything makes a difference. Here are some single-use plastics to reduce: plastic water bottles, plastic packaging, and take-out containers.
Reusing your plastics does not have to end at refilling your plastic water bottle. Here are just a few ways to practically reuse plastics:
- Are you a frequent beachgoer? If you are, you more than likely know the struggle of tracking what feels like the whole beach back with you. Sand from the beach is no joke, and neither is plastic. Empty milk and water jugs can be filled with water to serve as a quick and easy foot rinse next time you’re at the beach. You can also use a repurposed jug to water your plants or keep on standby when it’s time to refill a fish tank.
- When you do end up with plastic bags, use them as trash bags in your bathroom or pick up after your pets.
While we may try our hardest to ensure plastic is reduced, it still seems to enter our homes. We are fortunate to have the option to recycle, but sometimes it is confusing to figure out what can and cannot be recycled. Always check your area’s protocols, but here is a general list of recyclable items:
- Clean plastic bottles and caps, leave caps and lids attached
- Paper, magazines, or newspapers
Some commonly confused items that are best left out of the recycling include:
- Plastic bags
- Pizza boxes or other food containers
Refusing and reducing go hand in hand. Refusing single-use plastics is one of the best things you can do independently to save our oceans. Refusing plastic gives our wildlife a fighting chance to survive. Here are some alternatives to single-use plastic to get you started:
- Try bamboo or stainless-steel reusable straws instead of plastic ones
- Opt for canvas and other reusable shopping bags instead of plastic ones
- Use bamboo or metal utensils rather than plastic ones
- Purchase a bamboo toothbrush rather than a plastic toothbrush
- Opt for shampoo and conditioner bars rather than traditional plastic bottles
Plastic was among the most brilliant inventions of our time, and it can be again one day, but only if we make great efforts to reduce our consumption. The ocean is truly one of the most incredible places on our planet, and it is home to the sea turtles we admire. Think of the turtles on your next trip to the grocery store or before you throw away an item instead of recycling it. When we keep the mission in mind, our actions fall in line, and we see a difference. Do your best and believe you are part of the change… because you are!