plastic debris found on a beach

Plastic-Free July

Are you ready for Plastic-Free July? As many readers know, I created and coordinate the Florida Microplastic Awareness Project. Our goal is to both collect citizen science data about the amount of plastic found in Florida’s waters and teach people how they can reduce the amount of plastic waste that they generate.

What have we learned?

What are the citizen science data showing? We modified the testing protocol in 2017 because we learned that the method that we were using to differentiate plastic fibers from natural fibers was flawed. Using data submitted over the past two years, we have learned that, on average, one liter of water contains just over 4 pieces of plastic. Volunteers have collected and tested samples from 278 fresh water and coastal locations around the state. Eighty-five percent of samples contained at least one piece of plastic. Most of the plastic found (more than 3 pieces per liter) is in the form of fibers. Most of the remaining plastic was in the form of plastic fragments. People can view the sample locations and data on Google maps. Links to these maps can be found on the website above.

A graph showing that 72% of samples collected contained between one and four pieces of plastic and 9% had 6-10 pieces. 12% had no plastic.

The outreach component of the project includes asking people to take a pledge to reduce the amount of plastic waste that they generate. To date, almost 2,500 people have taken the pledge. On average, people report that they have started doing more than three new things to reduce the amount of plastic waste that they produce. In addition to the eight actions suggested in the pledge, people can get great ideas from Plastic Free July.  This program started as an effort by a small group of people in Australia in 2011. In 2018, 120 million people from 177 countries participated in the effort. Last year I started making my own yogurt and granola to avoid having those plastic containers to dispose of. This year I’m adding hummus to my “homemade” to-do list. What new thing are you willing to do for Plastic Free July?

Will it help?

I get asked quite often whether I think banning plastic straws (or bags, or foam containers) will have an impact on the amount of plastic in the ocean. I recently saw the following quote, attributed to Olga Evans, shared on social media and it really resonated with me:

“You can argue all day about whether one person not using straws or going vegan makes a global difference. The point is the mindset. We need to change our thinking from this idea that the earth is a bottomless pit of resources and start acting like what we do matters. Changing the philosophy of cultures and societies starts with individuals changing their own hearts and minds. That’s the importance of grassroots action. It’s not that my composting will empty landfills of food waste, but my changed mind and heart may influence others, and that could spread and change the world.”

I will conclude with the caution that recycling of plastics is not the solution to the plastic waste problem. The recycling code on plastic items does not necessarily mean that those items can or will be recycled. It is merely an indication about the type of plastic the item is made from. Additionally, plastics labeled as compostable or biodegradable will usually only degrade in commercial or industrial composting facilities. These facilities are not available to us in Florida.

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