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The other, bigger 'oil spill': Your use of disposable plastic

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We are simply using too much disposable plastic for the small percentage that gets recycled to even make a dent. And, unlike paper, glass, or stainless steel, most plastic can only be "down-cycled," or used for increasingly fewer purposes. All the recycling, like using a teaspoon to empty the ocean, simply can't stem the tide of plastic engulfing us.

Billions of pounds of plastic? That's like a few million cars dumped into the sea every year. Maybe we let it happen because the pounds accumulate not by one-ton car increments but by fractions of an ounce – a straw here, a plastic bag there, an empty shampoo bottle over there. When we're doing it one plastic bottle cap at a time, it's hard to realize that we are turning the ocean into a trash can.

Will an ocean cleanup be effective?

Certainly any effort to clean up our polluted seas is to be applauded, but we should also make sure the work is worth the effort.

In the Gulf of Mexico, the arguably toxic oil-dispersant sprays and containment strategies seem woefully insufficient when barrels of oil churn each day from the source below. Is an ocean cleanup an equally futile effort when we're replacing the garbage that's there more quickly than we could ever scoop it up?

So much of the garbage creating these shameful plastic gyres is single-use disposable plastic.

The most powerful thing people can do to clean up the oceans is to refuse to use "disposable" plastics in the first place. Let's add "Refuse" to the list of R's: Refuse-Reduce-Reuse-Recycle. Until we reduce our use of plastics wherever possible, real change will not happen. Recycling or cleanup projects alone won't cut it.

So what does that mean?

Just say no to single-use plastic

It means that whenever you can, say no to using plastic that will end up in the garbage that same day. Daily life offers countless ways to start saying no – just start with one.

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