How we can help save the Maltese environment by reducing plastic
Plastic is all around us. Everywhere you look you’re bound to see something made of or containing plastic. Bottles, boxes, cups, straws, bags - all plastic.
The problem is that most plastic is used for a few minutes, but it takes decades to decompose. This is in the context of a world that is producing more and more plastic to keep up with demand. As a result, plastic is ending up in our sewers, landfills and eventually on our beaches and in our oceans - causing the death of marine species.
As an island surrounded by sea we can no longer ignore this. To put you in the picture, Malta’s marine area within its territorial waters is 14 times as large as its terrestrial space. If we care about our island’s environment, we need to take action. While eliminating plastic completely may be difficult, there’s still a lot that can be done.
We spoke to Nature Trust, a non-profit environmental organisation, who shared some insight into the impact of plastics in Malta and shared tips on how everyday choices can make a difference to our environment and our health.
WHY IS PLASTIC HARMFUL?
Plastic has become one of the main sources of the pollution of our seas. According to the National Geographic, 73 per cent of beach litter is plastic.
The problem stems from the fact that only about 10 per cent of the plastic used worldwide is recycled. The rest ends up in landfills or in the sea. In time, the plastic starts to decompose forming smaller particles called microplastics - very small particles of plastic which end up in the food chain and in marine life.
How? Microplastics are ingested by plankton - the most basic element in the food chain. The plankton gets eaten by fish resulting in chemicals from the plastic being released in the fish - which we eat. Microplastics are also eaten by birds.
Birds and marine life are also affected by large-form plastic. Fish and other marine life, like turtles, often eat plastic (like floating bags) or get entangled in floating debris.
“The harm is great. Plastic may take over 100 years to degrade and, in the process, it can be ingested by fish and other organisms or it can be mistaken by some marine life as food (such as jellyfish) and ingested by wildlife such as turtles at times leading to death,” Nature Trust said.
WHAT’S THE SITUATION IN MALTA?
European statistics show that only a third of the plastic used in Malta is being recycled. “The way we irresponsibly dispose of our plastic in Malta is having an impact on the innocent marine life that lives in surrounding waters,” Nature Trust said.
“In a recent case, a juvenile 190kg female Leatherback turtle ended up dead on our shores due to the ingestion of four plastic bags. Some years ago, we also had a turtle with a plastic bag in its stomach. In the bag there were stainless steel bolts. The latter was lucky as, after long treatment, we managed to rescue and release the turtle,” Nature Trust said adding that plastic is also seeping into our soils.
THE SHOCKING FACTS
While here in Malta we can literally see plastic floating in the sea around us, the reality is that the plastic epidemic is affecting the entire planet. Here are some facts:
- Some 8.3 billion tons of plastic have been produced since the 1950s, according to a report from the Guardian
- A million plastic bottles are bought around the world every minute, according to a report by the Guardian
- Worldwide, about 2 million plastic bags are used every minute, according to Ecowatch
- Ingestion of plastic kills an estimated 1 million marine birds and 100,000 marine animals each year, according to the United Nations
- The average person eats 70,000 micro plastics each year, according to a study published in Environmental Pollution
WHAT CAN WE DO?
Eliminating plastic entirely from our lives may be difficult. But by making simple choices we can reduce our plastic use considerably and start making a difference. The key is to avoid single-use plastics or disposable plastics. These are used only once before they are thrown away or recycled. Here are a few ideas that will help you reduce your plastic use.
In the bathroom
- Use products (like toothpaste and face wash) that don’t contain microplastics intended as exfoliators
- Opt for soap bars rather than shower gels packaged in plastic bottles
- Buy durable razors instead of using disposable ones
- Buy toilet paper that is wrapped in paper, not plastic
- Switch from disposable diapers to reusable cloth nappies
- Make your period waste-free by using the menstrual cup instead of tampons, or opt for tampon brands without plastic applicators
In the kitchen
- Store food in reusable boxes, tins or jars
- Shop in bulk to reduce the packaging waste
- Say no to straws
- Buy farm fresh eggs in reusable paper containers
- Get your cheese and meat from the deli and have it wrapped in paper
- Buy fresh fruits and veggies (not packaged in plastic)
- Dispose of plastic in a responsible manner and in the correct bins
- If you are disposing of the plastic six-pack holders, open the loops before disposing
In the living and dining room
- Do not use air fresheners - light a candle or incense instead
- Use real silverware for parties instead of plastic
- Use rechargeable batteries to reduce buying batteries packaged in plastic
- If throwing a kid’s party avoid buying balloons - bubbles are more fun
In the laundry room
- Clean with baking soda and vinegar instead of packaged products
- Buy laundry detergent in boxes, not liquid in plastic containers
- Use cloth rags for clean up around the house
- Use biodegradable garbage bags
While out and about
- Take your own shopping bag
- Use a refillable bottle instead of buying bottled water
- Don't get to-go coffee or hot drinks as they come with plastic lids
- Say no to straws, unless they’re paper straws
- If you feel like an ice cream, opt for an edible cone
We can all play a part in reducing the amount of plastic that ends up in our oceans. Really and truly it’s all about making small, mindful choices. So how about stocking up on paper bags and reusable bags or replacing disposable containers with glass bottles and jars, all items you can find on Yellow.
Keep on discovering local - www.yellow.com.mt