The Waste Problem + What You Can Do!

Image by: Justin Hofman

Image by: Justin Hofman

Today’s world is filled with items that cater to convenience. From to-go containers to napkins and disposable cleaning products, these items are sold in surplus in all corners of the world. Single-use plastic items are used across the globe for those who are on the run, making it a simple task to use and throw away. While this may be convenient in the very (VERY) short term, it is wreaking havoc on our planet, with catastrophic long-term effects looming in the not-so-far-future. We are currently in one of the biggest pollution crises ever known because of the amount of single-use items strewn about in landfills and even worse, in our oceans. Even though this is a sad and overwhelmingly large issue, there’s hope! We have the power to reduce our waste with a few small changes. But before we go into the solution to the problem, it’s important to understand the numbers and effects that single-use plastics have on the earth.

According to the EPA, plastics make up more than 12 percent of the solid waste we create, which is “a dramatic increase from 1960, when plastics were less than one percent of the waste stream.” With convenience in mind, we have been marketed to buy and use more single-use items (think: paper plates, disposable napkins, utensils, etc.). We get the appeal of these products – they are versatile, lightweight, flexible, strong and usually quite inexpensive. But did you know - only about 8 percent of it gets recycled? In addition, so many people believe that if one single-use item is recyclable, then they all are. And that’s just absolutely false. Therefore, tons of single-use items are separated and landfilled, just contributing to the issue at hand.

So, we know now that not all plastics and single-use items are recyclable. But why are they so harmful to our planet? The biggest issue is that single-use items, particularly plastic, don’t go away. Ever. Instead, plastic tends to break down into smaller and smaller pieces. The issue here? Every day, people buy and use single-use times just once and then throw them out.  In fact, a study conducted in 2015 by a scientific working group at UC Santa Barbara’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS), detailed the amount of plastic waste from land into the ocean. The results: every year, 8 million metric tons of plastic end up in our oceans. It’s equivalent to five grocery bags filled with plastic for every foot of coastline in the world. In 2025, the annual input is estimated to be about twice greater, or 10 bags full of plastic per foot of coastline. So the amount of waste from single-use plastic items in 2025 would be nearly 20 times the 8 million metric tons estimate – 100 bags of plastic per foot of coastline in the world! These single-use items can also emit toxic chemicals that seep into the soil and can in effect, affect our health. And lastly, and probably most well known: pollution from single-use plastic threatens wildlife. Remember that video of the sea turtle with a plastic straw stuck in its nose? If we continue down this road, we will potentially wipe out species that are not only beautiful to look at but also provide important stability to our planet.

By now we have a better understanding of just how important it is to reduce our waste. But many people have the same question: What can I do to reduce my waste? Even more so, what does it matter, I’m just one person? Well, we have the answers! Let's look at some simple (and very small) changes that you can make to reduce your waste and help contribute to solving the major issue of pollution from single-use items.

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Bring Your Own: Invest in a few items – a travel utensil set (fork, spoon and knife), a thermos for coffee/smoothies/water and stainless steel straws. Instead of disposable cotton pads, napkins and towels, pick up machine washable cloth alternatives. When you bring your own items while you’re out, you effectively reduce your waste footprint by keeping these plastics out of landfills and our oceans. If you don’t wish to invest in straws, just say NO to plastic ones. Sure, you may feel a little awkward bringing your own with you the first few times, but you will be making a positive impact in the world and it’s a great conversation starter – trust us! Be the eco-trendsetter.

Reuse Glass: Perfect example – mason jars. Although they are part of the “hipster” trend throughout the world, reusing these glasses will help reduce your waste majorly. Use them to store your foods, put your drinks in them, take your lunch to work with them…the list goes on and on for their use! You can even take them to the store to buy your bulk items. Plus storing your food this way is not only eco-friendly, but it also displays your foods beautifully.

Find Compostable Single-Use Items: We’re excited about this one! If you don’t know already, we’ve partnered with Good Start Packaging to offer our deli products in 100% compostable to-go containers. It is just ONE of the ways we are working to provide greener, eco-sustainable products for you. (Be on the lookout for more about our partnership with Good Start Packaging!)

Use Reusable Shopping Bags: This is a no-brainer! Bringing your own bag to the grocery store reduces the amount of single-use bags, which in turn reduces our pollution significantly. Just how significantly, you ask? Well, if every person in New York City used one less grocery bag, it would cut waste by 5 million pounds and save $250,000 in disposal costs. That is a LOT of money and waste reduced! In addition the shear amount of waste that is reduced, reusable bags also last a lot longer than paper and plastic bags. The lifespan of a reusable bag is actually equal to approximately 700 disposable plastic bags.

Reusable bags help solve a little bit of the pollution problem each time you shop. Plus, they are much more sturdy that paper or plastic bags, come in a variety of sizes, and are usually printed with beautiful logos and designs. If you’re still on the fence about investing in a reusable bag, we’ll leave this statistic for you:  One person (aka YOU) using reusable bags over their lifetime would remove more than 22,000 plastic bags from the environment. It goes to show that a minor change can have a positive, lasting effect for our planet. If that doesn’t sell you, at Cornucopia we also give back 10 cents for each reusable bag you shop with – talk about incentive! It’s just a little way to give back to you as you try to make this world the best place it can possibly be. In addition, we now offer our own reusable bags. So next time your in the store, ask one of our cashiers to grab your own Cornucopia reusable bag to help not only reduce your own waste, but our community’s and in turn, the world! It’s just one small step, but each step is one in the right direction.