The Deadly Effects of Plastic Pollution and Five Tips for Decreasing Waste

Updated on May 9, 2019
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After several health crises, Dina A. began her vegan and conscious-living journey in 2008. She values compassion. So: no judgment here.

Take a Closer Look At Your Garbage

Examine your garbage and consider its impact
Examine your garbage and consider its impact | Source

The Problem

You pick up your morning coffee, take some precautionary sips, and when you are done, you toss the plastic cup in the trash can. You don’t think of it much but I urge you to do so. Take a plunge into your trash, not a quick dive. Examine it and see how it impacts the environment. To be more specific, I ask you to consider other creatures who live on this planet. There’s plastic everywhere but its use has been so normalized that we do not give it a second thought. To name a few examples, we have plastic bags, plastic toothbrushes, and many products wrapped in plastic. The problem with our reliance on plastic is that most people do not know what happens once that plastic is thrown in the trash.

False Information on Where Trash Goes

In a 2017 National Geographic article, Laura Parker writes about the percentage of plastic that gets recycled. She explains the history of relying on plastic, which started six decades ago. Since then, we have reached a point where there might be more trash than fish in the oceans by mid-century.

She refers to the lifespan of plastic: a whopping four-hundred-year mark, and links it to the nine percent of the trash that ends up recycled.

It is continually accelerating in its production, too. Parker references a study by Roland Geyer. The study was published in a peer review scientific journal called Science Advances. In it, Geyer calculates that amount of waste produced. He explains that out of the 8.3 billion metric tons that have been produced, 6.3 billion metric tons have turned into plastic waste.

In the end, Parker explains, the waste ends up in the biggest dumping location in our planet: the ocean.

A lot of our trash ends up in our oceans, where it poisons most creatures that come in contact with it
A lot of our trash ends up in our oceans, where it poisons most creatures that come in contact with it | Source

The Effects of Plastic Pollution on Marine Life

According to info-graphics by the National Geographic Kids website, plastic is then consumed by marine wildlife. To be more specific, 90% percent of seabirds have consumed plastic at some point in their lives. Likewise, 52% of sea turtles have consumed plastic.

This is not something wildlife can avoid. After all, there are 5 trillion pieces of plastic floating along the world’s oceans (National Geographic Kids). It is difficult for animals to discern whether plastic is food or not. Because a lot of the plastic once wrapped food, the scent confuses animals (Daly). Thus, they are swallowing deadly amounts of plastic. They end up starving because their stomachs can get blocked with all the plastic they swallow.

The same gruesome death happens to other animals because of plastic pollution. Whales are an example of that. Helen Briggs writes that 800kg of plastic were found in a dead whale in France. In Australia, another whale’s body had 30 plastic bags in its system.

Did you know that only 9 percent of trash is recycled?

See results

Plastic Doesn't Go Away

Informative graphic by Boomerang Alliance Australia
Informative graphic by Boomerang Alliance Australia | Source

The Zero-Waste Movement: A Solution

Enter the Zero-Waste Movement. This is a way of reducing our reliance on plastic. To a larger extent, it is about eliminating our production of waste. From my own experience, it is about making small steps to address areas in your life where you have excess waste.

For example, I had been wondering about plastic toothbrushes. I searched the Internet and found biodegradable bamboo toothbrushes as an alternative. Maybe you can find another use for the old plastic toothbrushes. I remember using toothbrushes on the family’s little kitten to mimic grooming. There are many ways to reuse your old plastic. I have read that some people use toothbrushes to clean tiles.

Another way I have incorporated zero-waste is by reducing my reliance on water bottles. As someone who drinks a ton of water, I tackled this issue early on. I bought bottles that I can fill up at home rather than supporting the production of single-use plastic bottles.

I am now working on reducing my make-up wipes use. My aim is to use towels or scraps of cloth that I already own. Finally, I am transitioning from using skincare packaged in plastic to more natural, homemade remedies.

These are some examples from my own life.

Want to get started? Here are 5 tips on how to do so.

Some Ideas to Reduce Plastic Use

Zero-Waste Changes to Make
Zero-Waste Changes to Make | Source

Tip #1: Establishing Purpose

Leading a successful zero-waste lifestyle stems from having a goal. You need to go inwards and tap into the reasons behind your choice to lead such a life. Doing so helps reframe every purchase you make.

If you are an animal lover, maybe that could be your angle. You can remember the animals when people pressure you to use plastic. Perhaps you are also concerned for the environment, which can be part of your goal: to protect the environment and its ecosystems for future generations. You do not have to be a philanthropist with a great vision. It can be as simple as wanting to decrease the presence of plastic to reduce clutter in your life. Health can be another part of your purpose for avoiding plastic and eliminating waste.

Whatever you do, remember to carry that purpose with you. It’s challenging because sometimes it’ll be tempting to conform. Make that goal close to you and your values.

Reflecting on Purpose

What would be your purpose behind taking on a zero-waste life?

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Tip #2: Focusing on Parameters

As someone who is new to this lifestyle, I found that it is overwhelming to tackle too many areas of your life all at once. Create parameters for yourself. Furthermore, prioritize your focus points. For example, right now, I am focusing on hygiene and (a little bit) on beauty because that is where I waste the most.

From there, dedicate time to examining your trash within this part of your life. For example, I noticed that menstrual pads have a lot of plastic in them and they are not that healthy for me. After researching, I was faced with two options: menstrual cups or cloth pads. Had I dedicated myself to focusing on more than one area, I would have been overwhelmed by all the options out there.

Plus, you need time to adjust to this new change in your life. I may have bought the cloth pads and decided to use them, but it still took me a couple of months to come up with a routine that caters to my life and my ability as a person.

Here are some ideas on what you can change in your kitchen, for example:

Listen to Key Figure in the Zero-Waste Movement: Bea Johnson

Tip #3: Shop Smart

Part of this journey involves researching better options for yourself. For instance, as I mentioned earlier, buying water bottles cost too much and produced too much waste. So, I had to keep in mind what I can afford. For instance many people use glass or metal bottles. I had to weigh in on which option is affordable and easy to maintain.

The beauty of such a lifestyle is that there is an awesome community behind it. Join groups online. Follow Instagram accounts or participate in Facebook discussions. There are some YouTube channels as well. You can easily ask for suggestions or pointers on where to start researching for replacements of a product.

A lot of these groups recommend buying second hand or locally. Align your purchases with your morals. I am used to this as a vegan, in particular, but I often research companies and see if I agree with their mission statement.

Then, you can ask yourself if the product can last you a long time and if it can be recycled.

What are your favorite shopping smart tips?

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Tip #4: Celebrating Life without Purchasing Unnecessary Things

This is the most challenging piece of this lifestyle for me. In a world with so many advertisements and pressures to buy things, it is hard to detach from associating my quality of life with the purchases I make.

I think remembering your purpose for living this way comes in handy. Reminding yourself of why you’re doing this helps. It will take some getting used to but I think once you get the hang of it, it becomes so rewarding.

Tip #5: Do the Best You Can

It is a balancing act to live such a subjective lifestyle. Many people in the zero-waste community come from a background of privilege. They have the money and resources to choose more eco-friendly products. Navigating through this community has led to a more compassionate attitude. You may end up being zero-waste in a completely different way. What matters is that you try to sustain it and make a difference.



Briggs, Helen. “Plastic Pollution: Scientists’ Plea on Threat to Ocean Giants.” BBC News. 5 Feb. 2018. Accessed 7 June. 2018.

Daly, Natasha. “For Animals, Plastic Is Turning the Ocean into a Minefield.” National Geographic. June 2018. Accessed 9 May 2019.

Parker, Laura. “A Whopping 91% of Trash isn’t Recycled.” National Geographic. 19 Jul. 2017. Accessed 5 June 2018.

“Plastic Waste in Antarctica Reveals Scale of Global Pollution.” New York Post. 7 June 2018. Accessed 10 June 2018.

“Ocean Plastic.” National Geographic Kids. Accessed 4 June 2018

Questions & Answers


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      • Holley Hyler profile image

        Holley Hyler 

        3 weeks ago

        Very informative article. I've been drawn to start reducing my plastic waste over the last few months and didn't know a lot of what you mentioned here. I agree with what you said about purpose and how it becomes easy to give into temptation and conformity without it - I've had this truth made very clear to me through my attempts to go vegetarian. I know I will get there fully someday as I continue learning more about these lifestyles and the endless ways they provide benefits not only to the Earth and our animals, but humanity as well. Loving your non-judgmental manner of writing about topics like this. Thank you!

      • Deborah Minter profile image

        Deborah Minter 

        7 months ago from U.S, California

        Good article!

      • K S Lane profile image

        K S Lane 

        11 months ago from Melbourne, Australia

        Really fantastic hub! I make sure not to use disposable coffee cups, straws, plastic bags, ect. but I hadn't thought of some of the other things you mentioned, like toothbrushes and make-up wipes. Just looking around my bedroom right now, there's plastic everywhere! I'm not sure I've got the will power to go completely zero waste, but I'm certainly going to try and make same steps in that direction.

      • vocalcoach profile image

        Audrey Hunt 

        12 months ago from Idyllwild Ca.

        I had no idea that only 9% of trash is recycled. I'm very surprised. It makes me sick about our oceans and the pollution. Wake up, people!

        Thanks for writing about this global problem.

      • Peggy W profile image

        Peggy Woods 

        13 months ago from Houston, Texas

        Quite a few articles have been written about this very subject so hopefully the more people hear about the detrimental effects of all of this plastic waste...and other waste as well...they will start doing something about it. We compost, reduce, reuse and recycle as much as possible. Thanks for bringing awareness to this problem.


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