PLASTIC CALCULATOR: Estimate your plastic footprint and act responsibly

Humans polluted the Earth. Only humans can fix it

By Hanna Pamula

The damage we have done to our planet has grown to incomprehensible levels. More than 8 million tons of plastic are dumped into our oceans every year. Every 60 seconds one truckload of plastic enters our waters. Can you picture what 8 million tons of plastic looks like? What about one ton? What about one ton, every second, seven days a week? The human brain’s ability to shut down when confronted with such huge numbers is well documented; we can barely visualise how big our city is, never mind our state. This is a problem.

 

With numbers this great, our shock is diluted—"surely this is too big an issue for me? Surely the government, politicians and big companies and industries are the only ones with enough power to do anything." The scale of this problem leads us to believe that our individual actions don’t matter, as we only occupy a tiny, tiny part of the world. Unfortunately, you're not alone in this feeling.

 

Plastic footprint calculator: a way of estimating your contribution to plastic pollution

 

That’s where the Omni Calculator Project comes in with a Plastic Footprint Calculator. It’s a tool with which you can accurately estimate how much plastic you consume, in pounds or kilograms per year or for a lifetime. The calculations are made on the basis of our daily life habits and the average weight of basic items that contain plastic.

The tool itself is divided into several sections. In each of them the most popular plastic products are listed—so, for example, in the group related to food and kitchen needs, you can find PET bottles, plastic bags, or yogurt cups. The bathroom and laundry section contains items such as detergent bottles, toothbrushes, or cotton swabs, whereas the next category lists different types of disposable packaging.

 

The tool had to strike a balance; it could not be too simple that it only contained a few products, but also couldn't be too lengthy, as to overwhelm and discourage people from actually using the calculator. So, finally, in the last box, you can input any other plastic waste that is not included in the previous groups, e.g., plastic furniture or toys. All you need to do after that is to think about your habits, and enter the numbers: type how much you buy over your desired unit of time - a week, month or a half year. The calculator will tally up your plastic footprint and compare it against the global, American, and European averages.

 

Be accountable for your trash

Usually, your results will not seem as significant as they really are. There are different reasons for this. First and foremost, we don’t realise how much plastic we use, as plastic is everywhere around us. Next time you're at the supermarket, take a look at your shopping cart and look at how many things are wrapped in plastic. Half? Two thirds? Every item? Who knew that oranges, with their protective skin, needed a plastic wrapping! The cost of producing new (or "virgin") plastic is so low that companies prefer it to recycled plastic, and thus the cycle of pollution continues.

 

Another reason is that plastic is a lightweight material, so using tens or even hundreds of straws or plastic cotton buds won’t add much into your total footprint in the calculator. Finally, the reason why the result may not seem so terrible—especially when compared to the horrifying 185 pounds the average American consumes per year—is the fact that the calculator features only essential plastic items, as a comprehensive list would be too unwieldy when plastic is here, there, and everywhere. In our fast-paced, throw-away society, we often buy instead of repairing kitchen appliances, housewares or electronics. All these items contain a lot of plastic, not to mention excessive plastic wrapping.

 

What can we do to reduce plastic footprint?

 

While high-income countries have a tendency to generate the most plastic waste, they usually have effective waste management systems. As many items are produced in middle and low- income areas, improving waste management and reducing our huge demand for plastic are critical in fighting plastic pollution. You've heard it before, but we need to stress it again:  the best way to reduce individual plastic footprint is to refuse and avoid plastic items every time they are not absolutely essential. Some rules are quite easy to introduce into your everyday life, starting from banning straws, takeaway boxes, coffee pods, and packaged produce. Others require engagement, persistence, and sacrifice: remembering to take tote bags for your shopping, using reusable cloth diapers or feminine hygiene products, switching to homemade detergents and cosmetics.

The "4Rs Rule."

Refuse is then the first and most important word from the 4R’s rule of reducing plastic. The second principle is reduction - if you really cannot refrain from buying a specific product, try to choose the one with the least possible plastic waste. Check clothing labels to avoid synthetic materials, choose paper-wrapped products over those packaged in layers of plastic, and carry a reusable plastic bottle instead of buying a new one every time. The third rule refers to reusing plastic items - if you already have one, use it as many times as possible. You can also repurpose them - the Internet is full of inspirational blogs and tutorials on how to make a bird feeder, flower pot, or watering can out of plastic waste. The last principle is of course recycling - if previous methods are not possible, make sure to put the plastic waste into the proper bin. Buying products made of recycled materials and choosing ones which are easy to recycle is also a good practice.

 

This short article is just a small suggestion on how to start. There are many different ways we can reduce our plastic footprint, including educating ourselves and the others. And remember, that little drops make the mighty ocean. A mighty, mighty ocean, without tons of floating plastic.

Hanna Pamuła, is a Ph.D. candidate at AGH University of Science and Technology, Kraków, Poland, working also as an expert at The Omni Calculator Project. She is concerned with ecological topics, and the popular Plastic Footprint Calculator is the result of that interest. A nature lover, birdwatcher, photographer and traveler at heart. 

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