5 Simple Steps That Make A HUGE Difference For The Environment

Editor's note: This is a guest post written by Dune Ives and Emy Kane of the nonprofit, Lonely Whale Foundation, in partnership with Sustainable Surf.

You don't need to think of yourself as an environmentalist to do your part to help clean up the oceans.

Many of the plastics we use every day — from coffee cups to grocery bags, straws to microbeads — end up in an ocean. And it's taking a serious toll: There are more than 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic in the sea today, according to 5 Gyres, a nonprofit organization working to fight pollution.

A staggering 80% of ocean pollution comes directly from products we use here on land.

While the Great Pacific Garbage Patch has made waves around the world for its sheer magnitude, it’s actually the buildup of often small, easily consumable plastics that have dramatic effects on our oceans. A recent report by the World Economic Forum and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation predicted that by 2050, the oceans will contain more plastic than fish.

And whether you’re on the East Coast, West Coast, or reppin’ the No Coast, the future of our oceans affects you. Oceans are responsible for creating nearly 70% of all the oxygen we breathe, and 3 billion people depend on seafood as their main source of protein.

"We all depend on the ocean for health," Anna Cummings, 5 Gyres executive director, said.

So, how are we combatting this issue? Countless nonprofits and NGOs, including Plastic Pollution Coalition and 5 Gyres, are working across borders to reduce plastic use on a global scale. This new wave of environmental activism is gaining momentum by tackling the problem from a cultural angle.

Click through to learn more about five plastics you can trash from your daily routine before World Oceans Day on June 8.
1 of 5
Illustrated By: Elliot Salazar.
Plastic Straws
In the U.S. alone, we throw out 500 million straws every day. Straws are more than just pollution — they’re deadly and dangerous to marine life, and one even ended up lodged in a sea turtle’s nose.

While straws aren't the only type of plastic hurting our oceans, they are quite literally a single serving of pollution. Single-use plastics are detrimental for myriad factors — two of the biggest being their oil-based production and short life cycles.

So, make sure you tell your servers, “No straws, please!” Challenge your friends to do the same, and sign Plastic Pollution Coalition’s pledge to refuse straws. Can’t kick the habit? Try a metal or glass version, instead.
2 of 5
Illustrated By: Elliot Salazar.
Plastic Bags

"It’s okay, I’ll recycle it!" We’ve all been there, soothing our consciences with a promise to recycle those unnecessary plastic bags involved in nearly every store transaction. But here’s the deal: An investigation by The Associated Press in 2013 found that in California alone, only 3% of plastic bags were recycled. That means 97% of plastic bags had the opportunity to end up in landfills, oceans, or in the stomachs of animals. Even if you do properly recycle plastic bags, we should think of it as “downcycling.” Plastics are an indigestible substance to the Earth so we’re never able to fully render the products inert.

In 2014, California took a big step forward: banning plastic bags altogether. But this November, California voters will decide whether to uphold the ban, which is being challenged by a ballot initiative backed by the plastics industry. Live in California? Start by signing the online pledge — and pass it on! Remember, change starts with us. Simple things, like bringing reusable bags to shop and saying no to plastic bags, can make a huge difference for our oceans. You can learn more from Surfrider here.
3 of 5
Illustrated By: Elliot Salazar.

Microbeads are the sneaky plastic polluter even conscious consumers don’t realize they’re using. While they are present in everything from face wash to toothpaste, microbeads aren’t always labeled on packages and sometimes are even listed under confusing names.

Out of the 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic in our oceans, 92% are microplastics. When tiny pieces of plastic end up in an ocean, they become sponges for toxins like DDT and end up eaten by fish, crustaceans, and other marine wildlife. It’s not just one bird, one whale — this problem is ecosystem-wide. When marine animals eat plastic, they ingest the toxins, which then go back up the food chain to our plates.

Just one tube of your facial scrub can contain 300,000 tiny plastic beads. So, how can you identify the culprit? If it’s a “scrub" that includes polyethylene, and if you don’t see a natural abrasive like walnut shells or sea salt on the label, the product likely contains microbeads. Ready to take further action? 5 Gyres has an action kit to help you make a change. Check out the DIY Scrub Guide for recipes, and learn how you can raise awareness among your friends and community here.
4 of 5
Illustrated By: Elliot Salazar.
Coffee Cup Lids

We all know coffee cups are a pollution problem — a recent report highlighted in The Guardian stated that less than 1% of takeaway coffee cups are recycled in the U.K. — but have you ever given thought to what’s in that plastic lid? In 2011, the U.S. Health Department added styrene to its list of known carcinogens — chemicals or substances that cause cancer. Commercial coffee cup lids are often made with No. 6 plastic, polystyrene, which is derived from styrene. Not only is polystyrene a known carcinogen, but it’s also a neurotoxin made even more dangerous when heated: a nasty combo for a coffee cup lid.

In addition to their biological toxicity, coffee cup lids are another prime example of plastics that serve only one use. The average American consumes two cups of coffee every day. So, opt for a mason jar, reusable glass bottle, or other non-plastic (and toxin-free) receptacle for your daily dose of caffeine. You’re not only eliminating single-use plastic entering the waste streams and our oceans, but you're also eliminating contact with a potentially dangerous material.
5 of 5
Illustrated By: Elliot Salazar.

It might be time to ditch your favorite fleece. A recent European study on microfleece found that a single wash of one microfleece garment could leave behind 1 million microfibers. Together, our washes are flooding our waterways with microfibers and creating “plastic soup” oceans. According to Maria Westerbos, director of the Plastic Soup Foundation, “A pair of 55 gram nylon socks…[can lose] almost 136,000 fibers per wash.”

Charles Moore, the biologist who brought attention to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, explains that this is especially dangerous because polyester fibers are heavier than water. That means they sink to the bottoms of oceans, polluting the area where most marine life live. These fibers are so tiny that they can be ingested by filter feeders (think oysters, clams, mussels, etc.) and end up back on land and on our plates. The fashion industry has taken notice and started to band together for action. G-Star Raw and the Plastic Soup Foundation are challenging organizations to develop creative solutions for both fashion fibers and also washing machines to make sure plastics never have a chance to end up in our waterways.

So check before you buy, skipping polyester, acrylic, and nylon threads, and learn more about ways the fashion industry is tackling this problem from Plastics Pollution Coalition.