By Rory Kosior, GLISTEN intern from Indiana University, studying Environmental Science
In Prince-Ruiz’s 2020 TedTalk in Perth, Australia she says, “Here’s the thing about big change, it’s got to start somewhere and it often starts with an individual.” Removing all plastic from our lifestyles is almost impossible, but it’s important that we don’t let that stop us from doing what we can. Everyone doing what they can has a significantly larger impact than only a few doing everything. Prince-Ruiz recommends taking it one step at a time. Change one or two behaviors, and once those become habits, add a few more.
Plastic Free July is an initiative through the Plastic Free Foundation, a non-profit organization established in Australia in 2017, where participants sign up to join the annual challenge of reducing their plastic waste during the month of July. The Plastic Free July Movement was started by Rebecca Prince-Ruiz in 2011 in Perth, Australia after visiting her local recycling center and seeing how much waste was there. After she got home that day, she decided she wasn’t going to use plastic the following month. She invited some coworkers to join her and Plastic Free July was born. While it may have started as a small grassroots effort, it didn’t stay that way for long. Plastic Free July grew so much that an independent, non-profit organization was set up in 2017 to manage the huge surge in participation and growth. In 2022, Plastic Free July had 140 million participants across 195 countries that collectively prevented 2.9 million tons of waste from entering a landfill or the environment.
Excessive plastic use is a worldwide issue. In the United States, 380 million tons of plastic are produced every year. National Geographic estimates that there are currently over 5 trillion pieces of plastic in the ocean. If plastic use and production continues at the current rate, National Geographic says there will be more plastic, by weight, than fish in the ocean by 2050.
Plastic pollution has a broad variety of consequences from both an environmental and public health standpoint. Plastic pollution can entrap wildlife, and animals mistake plastic for food. Plastic pollution impacts not only wildlife, but the quality of our land and water. Plastic pollution breaks down into microplastics which infiltrate soil and water resources. Microplastics can be microscopic and hard to filter from water and leach contaminants into the environment.
The big question now is: what can be done? While the scope of the issue is large, so is the impact of seemingly small choices. For example, choosing a refillable water bottle might not seem like very much to one person, but in a group of 100 people, that’s 36,500 plastic bottles not entering the environment or landfill. In a group of 5,000 people, it would be closer to 2 million bottles. Individuals identifying what they can do personally, within the scope of their lifestyle, is the best way to achieve widespread change. People collectively just doing what they can will have the biggest impact.
To celebrate Plastic Free July, Shirley Heinze Land Trust is holding Plastic Free July events at three of our nature preserves with Save the Dunes and Friends of the Indiana Dunes. Our program will kick-off with an hour and a half of various games and activities and conclude with an interactive hike led by our programs coordinator, Mari Patis, that highlights the impact of plastic pollution on the environment.
Additional details can be on our website >>