I came back from beach the other day feeling a bit sad and defeated, to be honest. I was carrying a bag of dirty plastics that I’d collected—old soda bottles, Styrofoam to-go containers and all manner of bottle caps. Despite my best efforts, the plastic problem that day felt overwhelming.
It wasn’t a pretty sight. After throwing away the trash I’d collected, I walked along the high tide line to watch the waves roll in. Eventually, I sat down along a little sand dune and found myself watching gulls swimming amongst ugly plastic bags, tin foil that I surmise had once encapsulated someone’s lunch, and forgotten, soggy beach balls.
There was a group of kids playing in the sand nearby, building a moat for their castle. When they began unearthing debris with their hands, their parents shooed them up and away.
I’ve realized that it’s not just pesticide and fertilizer outflow we need to worry about when it comes to our ocean ecosystems. It’s not just climate change and overfishing. It’s plastics. Plastics are accumulating rapidly in our oceans, and the consequences (not just for our beaches, but for the entire ocean ecosystem) are both real and dire.
Plastics in our Oceans
Twelve years ago, I went kayaking through the Exumas. On the trip, we moved from island to island, finding empty beaches at night to camp on. We ate dinner out under the stars, and listened to the waves crash onto the shoreline as we fell asleep at night. The days were hot and sweaty, and as midday approached and the salt began to stick to our skin and simmer on our palms, we’d jump overboard with goggles and a snorkel to explore the coral reefs beneath our hulls.
I remember being astounded by how vivid that underwater world was back then. Purple, bulbous sea slugs, delicate sea horses, flighty clownfish, barracudas all made their homes amongst great lobes of yellow, staghorn, elkhorn, starlet, finger and brain corals.
These magical ecosystems are incredible—truly a feast for the eyes (and also for the belly). Formed 250 millions of years ago, coral reefs have become the rainforests of the sea. In fact, 90% of the all local commercially-harvested sea life and 70% of all sportfish in the Bahamas rely on coral reefs to survive. 
Unfortunately, oil spills, ship groundings, ballast discharge, erosion from coastal development, ocean acidification (global warming) and plastics are harming our reefs today at rates faster than we can protect them.
Since 1950, we’ve produced 8.3 billion tons of plastic, 50% of which was produced in the past 13 years. [2,3] Only 9% of this plastic is recycled. The other 91% is thrown away, incinerated or, worse yet, released directly into the environment. 
As increasingly large amounts of plastic end up at sea, their impact has grown. Plastics aren’t just harming coral reefs anymore, they’re also breaking down into microscopic particles that are picked up by fish and other marine life. When these particles come into contact with acidic digestive juices, they break down into their chemical components and are absorbed into the animals’ flesh. This isn’t good for the fish, and it isn’t good for the things that eat the fish—including us.
Frankly, landfills aren’t the solution. We have a limited amount of space on this planet. In fact, the whole concept of trash is utterly unsustainable. As sinking countries face the threat of sea level rise, underground landfills are already becoming a legitimate liability.
I’m tired of picking up old Doritos bags, plastic bottles and plastic wrap every time I go paddle boarding. I’m worn out by cleaning up the beach every day and chastising people for littering.
As more and more humans are born into this world, a few things have become increasingly clear: 1) It’s time to start paying attention to downstream consequences 2) It’s time to put an end to plastic 3) It’s time to rethink the entire concept of trash.
The news isn’t all dark. An increasing number of restaurants are supplying 100% compostable take-out containers now. Stainless steel Hydroflasks have become all the rage. California outlawed plastic bags, and 10 major U.S. cities are aiming to go zero waste in the coming decades. 
Industry is paying attention, too. You can now by products like Avasol sunscreen—made from 100% biodegradable ingredients and packaged in a compostable cardboard tube. And what about packaging? We now have mushroom-created, 100% compostable packaging produced at costs comparable to synthetic materials. Learn more about it here.
Of course, the best way to solve the problem of plastic is to reduce or even eliminate it from our daily lives. To this end, there are now an amazing number of bloggers who are paving the way for a waste-free lifestyle. Here are just a few ideas to get started:
30 Ways to Eliminate Plastic From Your Everyday Life:
- Carry a reusable water bottle.
- Say no to plastic straws (or carry a reusable metal one).
- Bring your reusable coffee cup to the café.
- Avoid excess food packaging by shopping at farmers markets.
- Say no to disposable cutlery by bringing your own.
- Avoid products that contain microbeads, and don’t buy anything with polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA), polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) or nylon in the label.
- Use reusable produce bags.
- Bring your own reusable cloth grocery bag.
- Think of new ways to reuse old clothing items and avoid synthetic fabrics (opt for organic cotton or hemp).
- When ordering takeout or bringing home leftovers, ask if you can get the food in your own reusable container.
- Ask for a cone rather than a cup at ice cream stores.
- Cut out sodas, juices and all other plastic-bottled beverages from your diet.
- Buy fresh bread at the farmers’ market or bake your own!
- Return the containers used to hold berries, cherry tomatoes and potatoes to the farmers market to be reused.
- Buy wine in glass bottles with natural cork stoppers.
- Bring glass jars to the grocery store, and buy from the bulk bins (have them weighed at the register first).
- Clean your house with vinegar and water (1 part vinegar to 3 parts water makes a great all-purpose spray cleaner) instead of toxic bleaches.
- Use powdered dishwasher detergent in a cardboard box.
- Use natural scrubbers and cellulose sponges instead of synthetic sponges.
- Buy natural rubber gloves.
- Use bar soap instead of liquid soap.
- Choose lotions and lip balms stored in plastic free containers (like Avasol).
- Choose toilet paper that’s not wrapped in plastic.
- Invest in a Diva Cup, rather than plastic wrapped tampons.
- Buy a glass blender instead of a plastic one.
- Buy wooden kitchen utensils instead of plastic ones.
- Put leftovers into glass tuperware to store.
- Avoid non-stick cookware—go for stainless steel instead.
- Use a refillable fountain pen.
- Get off mailing lists to stop the flow of plastic cards and plastic-wrapped junk mail to your house.
As is true with most environmental issues, the problem of plastic is large, but the power of human innovation and determination is not to be underestimated. Just because we have a plastic problem today doesn’t mean we have to have a plastic problem tomorrow. I, for one, am galvanized and ready to fight. And together, I know we can create a world we’d all be proud to live in.