Let’s go back in time, to the year 1976. Fidel Castro has just been elected the president of Cuba, Steve Jobs founded a company called Apple, and Wild Cherry’s hit Play That Funky Music is topping the charts. At the same time, someone in Montreal finished their Yoplait yogurt and tossed the plastic carton into the trash.
Now fast forward to right now – 2017. You’re probably reading this on your iPhone. Fidel Castro and Steve Jobs have both passed away, Apple is a 700 billion dollar company, and Wild Cherry has been broken up for almost four decades (thankfully Play That Funky Music survives them). But while the world looks very different from the one in 1976, the one thing that has not changed is the plastic carton of Yoplait. This is a photo of the 41-year-old piece of garbage after it washed up on a beach in Sarasota, Florida.
Disco has long since died, but it will take 450 years for this yogurt carton to degrade, and we have been producing and consuming plastics steadily since it was tossed into the trash 40 years ago. In fact, plastic production has increased 620 percent in the past 30 years along and we now put 300 million tons of plastic materials into circulation every year. Keep in mind, only 15 percent of these plastics are recycled. The rest, like this Yoplait carton, eventually make their way into our oceans.
Every year 8.8 million tons of plastic enter our oceans every year, but a recent UN study estimates that, at the current rate, by 2050 we will produce 33 billion tons of plastic annually and so the amount of plastic entering our waterways is set to increase as well. After entering the ocean, plastic pollution lodges in the digestive systems of marine life, entangles and strangles animals, and breaks down into harmful microplastics that choke out life on the sea floor. Plastic pollution currently threatens 817 species of marine and wildlife – that’s a whole lot of problems to accompany a disposable item we typically use for a few minutes.
This Yoplait carton reminds us that this problem is not going anywhere for a long, long time. So what can we do to fix this looming issue? There are many people working on the problem. Regions in the UK and India have instituted bans on plastic bags and disposable plastics that have proven to be very effective. But we can also do our part on a day to day basis by cutting plastic out of our lives? Remember to bring a tote bag with you to the grocery store instead of using the plastic bags there and bring your own water bottle with you when you leave the house instead of picking up a disposable one while you are out. For more tips on how to reduce your plastic waste join One Green Planet’s Crush Plastic campaign and start saving the world!