Plastic is one of the most common materials in the world. It can be found literally everywhere, from the grocery stores we frequent every day to the most remote oceanic environments. An estimated 8.8 million tons of plastic find their way into the oceans every year. Around 46,000 pieces of plastic can be found in every individual square mile of the ocean, with 270,000 tons of plastic debris floating around on the surface of our oceans alone. Sadly, approximately 700 marine species are at risk of going extinct because of the waste we produce. Some experts have predicted that the oceans could contain more plastic than fish by the year 2050.
Luckily, people around the world are beginning to sit up and take action. In recent years, a number of significant breakthroughs have occurred in the fight to curb plastic pollution, including the invention of new waste reducing tools such as the SeaBin, microfiber catching devices for washing machines, and even edible water bubbles that could replace single-use plastic bottles. One of the most encouraging developments has been the fact that cities all over the world are making an effort to cut down on their waste, or even become “zero waste” cities (a term used to describe cities that recycle and reuse all of their waste, rather than sending it to landfill). We profile a few of these amazing places below, together with suggestions on how you, too, can make a difference in your everyday life!
1. San Francisco, USA
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San Francisco has long been a trailblazer for the zero waste lifestyle. In 2007, it became the first U.S. city to take action against plastic bags, by banning their usage in specific stores. Last year, the city passed a ban on a wide range of harmful styrofoam products, including polystyrene food packaging, to-go containers, coffee cups, and pool toys. This ban will come into full effect on July 1oth of this year. San Francisco also manages to divert 80 percent of its waste away from the landfill system – thanks to an extensive system of recycling and composting waste material – and has declared its intention to become a zero waste city by the year 2020.
2. Kamikatsu, Japan
The village of Kamikatsu, located on Shikoku Island in south-west Japan, is making great strides in its mission to become the country’s first zero-waste community by 2020. After making the decision to end its practice of dumping trash into an open fire back in 2003, this town has made enormous progress in its waste reduction efforts. Kamikatsu has no garbage trucks, meaning that every resident must wash, sort, and bring their own waste to the local recycling center. Items that can still be used are taken to local businesses, where they are resold or repurposed into clothes, toys, or other useful items. Kamikatsu now attracts an estimated 2,500 eco-conscious visitors a year and runs a Zero Waste Academy that aims to educate visitors and spread awareness of the village’s highly efficient lifestyle.
3. Buenos Aires, Argentina
The story of Buenos Aires’ change of heart in its approach waste is a testament to the work of local volunteers who were determined to make a difference. Following the city’s economic collapse at the beginning of the 21st century, the streets were filled with informal litter pickers (known as cartoneros), who would sort through garbage left on street corners for recyclable items that they could sell on to dealers at extremely low prices. At that time, Buenos Aires relied entirely on landfill as means of waste management, and the activities of cartoneros were considered illegal. However, the cartoneros gradually began to make progress in educating local residents on the importance of waste reduction and recycling. In 2002, the city of Buenos Aires finally withdrew a law that had prohibited litter-picking, and began to enact zero waste legislation. In 2016, over 5,000 cartoneros were formally employed under the government’s Ciudad Verde (Green City) plan, dedicated to emptying the bell-shaped recycling bins that finally began to appear on the streets of their city in response to their efforts.
While not falling under the definition of a city, the country of Sweden deserves an honorable mention for achieving the incredible feat of recycling its own waste so effectively that it must now import waste from other European countries in order to keep its waste processing plants open! Each Swedish person creates around 480 kilograms of household waste per year – conforming to the European average – but the way that waste is processed is truly revolutionary. Through the development of a highly efficient waste processing system, 99 percent of the country’s household waste is now recycled: a dramatic increase from the figure of 38 percent in 1975!
Household waste is typically separated into special containers in people’s apartment blocks or homes or brought to a recycling center. Most recycling centers in the country are no further than 300 meters away from any residential area, making it very easy for Swedes to access them. In the southern city of Helsingborg, public waste bins have even been fitted with loudspeakers playing pleasant music to encourage recycling! Weine Wiqvist, the CEO of the Swedish Waste Management and Recycling Association, says, “Zero waste – that’s our slogan. We would prefer less waste being generated, and that all the waste that is generated is recycled in some way. Perfection may never happen, but it certainly is a fascinating idea.”
How You Can Make a Difference
While the sheer amount of plastic waste that we produce can be truly frightening at times, the efforts being made by people all over the world give us reason to believe that there is hope for a more sustainable world. Earlier this year, Kenya declared a ban on the manufacture and importation of plastic bags, while the city of Delhi in India announced a ban on all forms of single-use plastic (such as plastic bags and cutlery). A growing number of zero waste grocery stores have begun to be established all over the world, reflecting the public’s growing appetite for a less wasteful approach to life.
You can take action to help the planet by identifying where you use excess plastic in your day-to-day life, and making an effort to cut down in these areas. One Green Planet’s Crush Plastic campaign provides you with a number of useful tools to begin doing just that. You can also learn more by checking out the links below:
- 10 Life Hacks to Help You Cut Plastic Out of the Picture
- 5 Innovative Ways to Use Unavoidable Plastics in Your Life
- 5 Simple Go-To Tips to Shrink Your Plastic Footprint
Let’s #CrushPlastic! Click the graphic below for more information.
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