Living Yoga Off the Mat: The Plastic Problem And What You Can Do To Help Solve It
As those who do it will know, our yoga practice goes far beyond the four corners of our mat. It isn’t just about what we do in the few hours we spend in the studio each week, but what we do to integrate the teachings of yoga into our day to day lives.
For me, my yoga journey ignited a concern for the welfare of the planet, as I began to understand my intrinsic connection to and impact on the world around me. It inspired me to start taking some small actions to reduce my personal environmental impact - one of the most important of which was to move towards a plastic-free lifestyle. Why? Because it has become one of the biggest environmental concerns of our time.
Since mass production of plastic began in the 50s, US researchers estimate that more than 9 billion tonnes of plastic have been manufactured. That’s the equivalent of 1.3 million empty double decker buses. And here is a sobering thought - ALL of those 9 billion tonnes of plastic still exist as plastic in some way shape or form today.
That first straw you used as a toddler to drink the first carton of juice you were given by your parents, still exists today. Every single straw you have ever used and thrown away is still out there somewhere today. They may have broken down, but they won’t have decomposed or biodegraded. Plastic isn’t biodegradable, it can only photodegrade, meaning it breaks down into thousands of smaller fragments of plastic, which will hang around for hundreds if not thousands of years to come.
But what about recycling? Well, if the previous statistic wasn’t bleak enough, less than 14% of all plastic is recycled globally – When additional costs of sorting and reprocessing are factored in, only five percent of packaging is retained for subsequent use.
Where does it end up? In our landfills and in our oceans, with serious repercussions for the environment. According to conservation charity Ocean Crusaders, there are 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris in the sea – that’s around 46,000 pieces per square mile. At least 9 million tonnes of plastic are washed or dumped into the ocean every single year – that’s the equivalent of pouring the contents of 1 rubbish lorry into the ocean every single minute!
As a result, millions of animals are killed every year, vital ecosystems are destroyed, food and water resources are contaminated and human lives are risked.
If we continue producing, consuming and throwing away plastic at the rate we are currently going at, scientists estimate that the amount of plastic waste in our oceans will increase tenfold in the next few years alone. They predict that by 2020, there will be 100 bags of plastic per foot of coastline around the world. They expect that by 2025, there will be 1 tonne of plastic for every 3 tonnes of fish, and by 2050, MORE plastic than fish altogether.
The science community now believes that plastic will stick around for so long, that it will be the geological marker, of our time in history – quite the legacy to leave behind.
So what can we do to help mitigate this problem? Not all hope is lost. You don’t have to give up all of your possessions and head for the hills to go live in a tree house in a loin cloth for the rest of your days to have a positive impact on the planet.
Governments are now under pressure to implement and change policy on such issues, scientists are now developing a new generation of biodegradable plastics produced from renewable resources, and plastic clean-up initiatives, and we have the autonomy to take matters into our own hands. As consumers, every time we purchase something, we are essentially voting for the kind of world we want to live in. We might not feel as though our political vote counts for much, but our consumer decisions do.
So what can we do? Reduce, and Reuse. Switch one-time, throwaway plastics for sustainable alternatives that you can use over and over again.
The most common single-use plastics and the biggest culprits of plastic pollution are –
- Bags – 5 trillion of which are used globally every year
- Straws – 8.5 billion of which are used globally every year
- Cups – 2.25 billion of which are used globally every day
- Bottles – A million of which are used globally every single minute
Statistics you can’t even begin to comprehend.
But they are easily avoidable.
You can swap these items for multiple-use alternatives made from more environmentally friendly and durable materials, such as glass and stainless steel, or natural resources like bamboo and hemp.
When I am out and about and on the go, I always carry with me -
A cotton bag
A bamboo straw
A glass coffee cup
A stainless steel water bottle
A stainless steel spork
All of this cost me less than £25 and I probably made that back within weeks. I avoid the bag charge at the checkout, I get money back on hot drinks in most of the big high street cafés, and I drink water for free. Since when did paying for a natural resource that is a human right make sense anyway?
Wins for me, and wins for the planet.
Now, this bag of items obviously isn’t exhaustive and I certainly don’t claim to be 100% plastic-free in all areas of my life. I am probably going to eat the occasional bag of salad and I’m probably going to order a take-away every now and then. It’s not about being perfect. Just the idea of being completely waste or plastic free can put a lot of us off from taking steps towards reducing our impact altogether. It’s just about doing what you can, within your own means, and within your own sphere of influence. By removing this handful of throwaway plastics from your lifestyle alone, you will already be making a dent in the epidemic.
It’s easy to think that as one person alone you can’t make a difference, but if all 7.6 billion of us kept telling ourselves ‘It’s only one straw’, we’re doomed.
In the words of the Dalai Lama, “if you think you’re too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.”