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Small Changes Can Make A Difference

by Colleen McSpirit

Plastic never goes away.

It photo degrades, which means it crumbles up into tiny pieces. These tiny pieces enter the food chain ,starting with jelly fish and ending stored in the human liver. Every human living in an industrial nation has contributed to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. (You don't really think the Atlantic Ocean is safe do you? That plastic patch just hasn't been discovered yet) We all throw out plastic, one way or another.

No one knows if the plastic can be removed from the oceans, but we can reduce the amount that ends up there. If each of us becomes more mindful of our plastic consumption, we can make a difference. If you are not ready to switch to a wood toothbrush and only buy Waldorf toys, there are simple things you can do to reduce the amount of plastic you use and discard.

Here are 12 ways to make a difference:

1) Switch to metal or glass refillable water bottles - Probably the number one most wasteful use of plastic is bottled water. Not only are you paying corporations' exorbitant prices for water not much different then most tap water, but this trend is one of the biggest causes of plastic ending up in the ocean. Get a metal refillable bottle. Support companies who use glass to bottle their beverages, such as Arizona Teas, Snapple, Joe's Tea and Honest Tea. Save the bottles and refill them. Same 16 oz serving size, easily washable in the dishwasher or by hand. I carry a couple with me when I am out and about. I refill them not only with water, but also with ice tea or lemonade.

2) Use cloth grocery bags. Probably tied with water for the most wasteful use of plastic. Worse when they hit the water - marine animals often are choked by bags when they confuse it for food. Get a bunch of cloth bags and use them for everything, not just groceries. They even now sell smaller reusable bags for items such as produce. Forget your bag? If it is a small enough purchase, say no to the bag, even if it is paper, anyway. At the very least reuse your plastic shopping bags. San Francisco has banned the use of plastic bags. Other cities, such as Los Angeles are following suit. Sadly such measures failed to pass in New York City and Philadelphia. The U.N. urges an global ban on plastic bags to save marine life. Of course the plastic bag industry is fighting such measures. But if we just don't use plastic bags, the politicians don't need to be involved and the plastic bag people will not have anything to fight against.

3) Repair, donate, sell or trade up electronics. Electronics are made with quite a bit of plastic. Women's shelters and other charity organizations often will gladly accept outdated computers, cell phones and the like. Stores such as Staples will recycle such items for you for a small fee. Independent computer stores can often upgrade your existing model. The options are endless and with a little research you can find a way to pass on your old electronics.

4) Donate or give away toys. One man gathers what another man spills. Donate your unwanted items to women's shelters and the like. Or put an ad on Craigslist or Freecycle. Sell collections of toys on Ebay. Chances are there is a new home waiting for your item.

5) Clean up area water ways - For as long as I can remember, I've cleaned beaches, marshes, streams and even the street with my parents to keep garbage of all sorts out of the waterways. Today I do it with both my parents and my own children. It is easy enough to pick up the trash littered, washed up or put there by the breeze. I have always been amazed with the amount of stuff we collect, even on the seemingly "woodsy" and not-very-populated street on which I currently live. I often wonder where all the garbage we take out of the both my stream and pond comes from? Which brings me to the next one...

6) Don't litter. Seems simple, but our highways and byways are full of trash. It is an easy enough task to make sure your garbage is disposed where it should be - in a garbage can or a recycling bin. If you don't, it will eventually find its way to a body of water.

7) Buy recycled plastic products. While not the be all end all answer, as it is still plastic, at least we are doing something with the plastic we already have. The downside of these products is the amount of oil it takes to not only recycle the plastic to begin with, but also to make the new product. Products range from "cloth" shopping bags to plastic lumber products.

8) Buy in bulk. Buying items in bulk reduces the amount of packaging used. Two packs of cereal, large bags of rice, etc use less packaging.

9) 100% biodegradable dog waste and garbage bags. This is where I am most guilty and need to improve! Biobags makes 100% biodegradable bags both for picking up dog waste and to use as garbage bags. sells both types for a very reasonable amount.

10) Use refillable products. By using refillable plastic you not only save money but use less plastic. Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts and WaWa are just a few of the coffee companies that allow you to bring your own mug. Or at the very least purchase one of theirs to refill everyday. Some, like Starbucks, even give you money off your purchase. Refill your liquid soap dispenser instead of buying a new one each time. Some cosmetic companies such as Avon's Mark offer refillable cosmetics.. My eye shadow and blusher are stored in a plastic case I have had for at least five years. The colors themselves though come in metal tins.

11) At the very least recycle - A lot of plastic is recyclable. People either don't know it is or don't do it because it is not convenient. For example, city officials estimate Los Angeles consumers use 2.3 billion plastic bags each year, but only an estimated 5% of plastic bags are recycled statewide. There is the basic recycling offered by your municipality. Sometimes curb side pick up, sometimes you have to bring it to a central location. Either way just do it. Having a hard time with recycling certain products like computers or crocs? Many counties or states hold municipal household waste days in both spring and fall to accept and recycle products such as computers, batteries, and paint. Check with your town. As for crocs if you ship them to Soles United, owned by the people who make the rubber shoes, they will make sure they get to feet who need shoes.

12) Just say no. - When bringing home take-out food say no to plastic forks and other utensils as well as no to ketchup, soy sauce and other condiment packs. Use your metal fork and own larger size ketchup!