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

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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 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.

Once a day, refuse to use a plastic bag, a plastic bottle, straws, takeout containers, disposable cups, utensils, or unnecessary packaging. Start there. Phase out the single-use plastics in your life, reuse the ones you already have as much as you can, and then change your habits: Choose reusable products. Take all of your plastic containers to the nearest recycling center and don't replace them.

Then, begin choosing products sold in glass, metal, cardboard, and paper instead of plastic. These materials can be more effectively recycled or, when it's paper, biodegrade in water or landfills.

What about jobs in disposable plastic?

According to the American Chemistry Council (ACC), roughly 1 million people make a living off developing and manufacturing plastic. But reducing plastic pollution doesn't have to mean reducing jobs.

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