Plastic is the new public enemy number one. Why? Because it doesn’t go away. Some of it is recycled, but up to half is used only once and will end up polluting land, sea, and wildlife for years. You can do something about

Humans are producing 150 million tons of single-use plastic every year, of which more than 8 million tons land in the sea. What’s more, making plastic sucks up energy – and mostly the non-renewable kind like gas, oil or coal.

The lunch wrap or shopping bag you toss takes 20 to 1 000 years to degrade. Eventually, it breaks down into a fine dust, of which a lot is swept by wind and rivers into our oceans.

And that’s how we get the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP), the world’s largest floating trash dump. Halfway between Hawaii and California, it’s 1,6 million square kilometres of micro-plastics in a gyre fed by strong sea currents. About 80 percent of its debris comes from land-based activities in North America and Asia.

Plastics in the sea get gobbled up by fish. And who eats the fish? We don’t know yet what exactly microscopic plastic particles can do to our bodies, but traces are turning up in human urine and blood samples. And that’s enough reason to join the war on single-use plastics.

We don’t have to do it all ourselves. A Dutch student designed a system of air-filled polyurethane booms that float on the ocean and sweep the Garbage Patch plastics into containers for collection. The first stage was deployed in September 2018. It’s a costly project, but it will make a big difference. The snag though is that the booms can’t collect the smallest particles.

So there’s still some work left for all of us. South Africa recycles more than 41 percent of its plastics – a lot better than many other countries. But even better than cleaning up or recycling is using less plastic, to begin with. So let’s get started.

Don’t use them. They’re expensive to recycle because they’re small and hard to clean. Paper isn’t much better since making it takes a lot of energy. Reusable cloth bags are the way to go. Buy some (or make some if you’re handy!) and remember to take enough with you when you go shopping. When you’ve finished unpacking the groceries at home, put the bags back in the car right away so you have them ready even for an unplanned shop.

Plastic straws, stirrers and swizzle sticks are costly to recycle because they’re so small. And who needs them? Get a set of cool metal or bamboo straws and pack them with your lunch. Or just drink from the glass!

Carry a reusable coffee cup or flask. Some coffee shops now reward you for not taking a throw-away cup, which is hard to recycle because of the plastic waterproofing stuck to the inside.

Check if your favourite tea bag is coated with plastic. Chances are it is. Look for biodegradable bags or switch to loose tea.

A million plastic bottles are bought around the world every minute. Most can be recycled, but the problem is collecting and processing them. The big culprit is bottled water. Switch to glass, bottle your own and reuse. If you do use a plastic bottle then find a recycling bin and dump it in there.

Did you know the first spork was patented in 1874? This curious fork-spoon combo has never been more useful. As some countries are gearing up to ban plastic cutlery and plates, get on the right track by packing a reusable spork. Ask takeaway restaurants to leave out the plastic cutlery – research shows we use them for an average of three minutes!

It can’t be recycled. Tin foil can, though. Also look out for reusable beeswax wraps, which are appearing in local green shops.

Your local school might be part of an eco-brick programme. It involves stuffing a 2-litre plastic bottle with clean, dry plastic waste. These are collected by companies who build with them. Did you know you can make ecobricks from empty 2-litre bottles and household waste? They can be used in play parks, gardens and even building projects, which reduces the amount of waste in our landfills. Just collect clean, dry plastic waste like sweet wrappers, cling wrap, chip packets, and shopping bags. Twist them so you can get them into the bottle, then use a stick to press each piece of waste in as tightly as you can. When your bottle is so full that an adult can only squash it 10% with one hand, screw on the top and your ecobrick is done! For more info on their uses visit ecobricks.org or ecobrickexchange.org.

Jet Club Family, how are you reducing your plastic usage? We would love to know! Leave a comment below with your tip.

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