Plastics: As Dangerous as Climate Change, But With a Solution

May 21, 2018

By Conor White

For more information, visit National Geographic's Planet or Plastic campaign at http://natgeo.com/planetorplastic.

Decades of plastic consumption and the resulting waste has created a global accumulation of non-biodegradable materials that is choking the planet's waterways, as serious a problem as climate change, according to National Geographic. There is, however, one clear difference: Earth has an answer to its plastic problem.

By using silicone or metal straws, reusable water bottles, and canvas grocery bags instead of those made from plastic, consumers can ease the accumulation of plastic waste that's clogging the world's oceans, said Jenna Jambeck, a National Geographic explorer and associate professor at the University of Georgia.

"These sound really sort of mundane, but they're not," Jambeck said in an interview Monday with Cheddar. "They actually do make a difference, and people can choose the planet over plastic."

Each year, more than 9 million tons of plastic waste ends up in the ocean. According to some estimates, that plastic could remain in marine environments for 450 years or longer. National Geographic is hoping to reduce that number with its new "Planet or Plastic?" initiative, encouraging consumers to stop using single-use plastics.

"It can be empowering for people to know that actually, their choices do matter," Jambeck said. "Through this research, if you show that those individual actions that we take every day, taken collectively, or thinking about them over time, they definitely matter."

In 2015, Jambeck and a group of scientists calculated the amount of plastic waste finding its way into the planet's oceans annually, which became the impetus for the National Geographic initiative. It is featured in the June issue of National Geographic.

The 'Planet or Plastic?' initiative includes tips for consumers to reduce their use of plastics and a pledge to make a difference.

Jambeck said consumers should not to give up if they happen to forget their reusable water bottle or grocery bag.

"Be sort of forgiving with yourself, because every time that you remembered, you actually had an impact," she said.

For the full interview, click here.