The Plastic Burden

Berna A.
7 min readFeb 20, 2017

Had a great premier of the film “A Plastic Ocean” in NYC on January 18. It is one of the most informing and eye-opening documentaries on the topic I’ve seen in a long time. Can’t call it sensational but definitely disturbing. A slap in the face type of movie. With the multiple shots of the freely floating plastic pieces, nerdle covered beaches, plastic bottles at 3000 ft, plastics filled seabirds… The impact of even non-BPA plastics to human health, the harm plastics have caused in 3rd world countries, etc. All of this is fact, not a bit of it exaggerated. They are all realities those in power rather we don’t see.

Every single plastic ever created in the last 60–70 years is still on our earth. They don’t biodegrade or disappear.

Wake up. That’s what we have to do. The world isn’t a place we can live without impact.

We are not powerless beings on the face of the earth.

We are powerful with each and every decision we make. The problem is that we have too many people who are looking to take advantage of our human vulnerabilities and too many of us willing to turn a blind-eye in favor of our recently created destructive conveniences.

The documentary also points out 6 major countries contributing to the plastic problem — all in the developing world. A quick scan of these countries is enough to realize practically none of them have the capacity to manufacture any of these plastics. Nor do they have the technology to recycle either. Neither the skills. Director Craig Neeson did point out during the Q&A that we cannot put the burden on these developing nations. They receive these plastics from businesses and nations who have the means, skills and technology to recycle. The aim should be to make the disposal of any product the problem of the designers and producers — the design of a product should be beginning to end. That is the ultimate goal. Meanwhile, as we work to achieve that goal, we don’t just sit on the sidelines on our hands.

We are the players. We have powers. We can use them.

We work in the companies who create those plastics that get sent to the developing nations, we consume much of it and throw it away so our “recyclables” are transported across oceans, we demand the plastic manufacturing for its convenience and cost.

Our lifestyles enable a lot of the practices, the good news is that we have the power to disable it too.

The responsibility falls on so many organizations, groups and people. There is not a single person on the face of the planet who is powerless against plastics. You used how many yesterday? Bottles, utensils, cups, lids, straws and the infamous bags. Our day to day choices have a bigger impact than you think.

We need to spread the word. It’s about working together for the overall and greater goal. It is true, not any single one of us can make the necessary impact by just cutting down on our own plastic use. But if each of you reduced, and some of your friends did and some of their friends… and you demanded change from the various companies, offices you work in and businesses you interact with, that’s how we create the snowball effect.

We are better than just continuing to do something that we know is wrong and harmful.

We’ve always wanted to make a difference in the world, this is our chance. No need to make huge changes, just little ones, just at home.

It’s not complicated, just takes commitment and a little bit of planning. Below are a list of things you can start doing today to make a difference.

Make a difference

1 — Stop using Plastic Bags — opt to use a reusable bag. It’s always convenient to have one that is easily foldable into itself that you carry in your purse, backpack, laptop bag, jacket etc. Takes no space and makes no waste. Try to opt for one that is made of cotton, rayon, bamboo or hemp.

2 — Stop using straws — this is one that has the biggest impact. Straws are very easy to fly off and into a water stream, yet most of the time very unnecessary. If you find yourself needing a straw every time — get either a glass or stainless steel reusable one and carry in your bag. It’s very easy to clean-out.

3 — Stop using plastic bottles — reusable personal water bottles are now the name of the game. I would recommend going with one that is stainless steel or glass. The plastic ones still have impurities and the risk to transfer harmful/unknown chemicals into our bodies.

4 — Stop using plastic cups — when at a juice place, or any restaurant if they are serving their drinks in a plastic cup, ask them to fill it into your reusable bottle instead. Avoid ingesting the harmful plastic toxins.

5 — Stop using plastic lids — these are extremely unnecessary. If you must use a lid for any reason — get one that is made of silicone and is reusable over multiple standard size cups and water bottles.

6 — Stop using ziploc bags — opt to use a beeswax sheet or canvas sandwich bag instead. They are absolutely the best thing since sliced bread.

7 — Stop using produce bags in the grocery store — when going grocery shopping be sure to carry canvas bags within your reusable bag. It’s very easy and it’s just so much more healthier.

8 — Be like Craig — leave the plastics behind at the grocery store. 😃 This is my new favorite. I normally never touched the ones that were in plastic bags or wrapped in plastic. I avoided them. Now, instead, I open them take the produce in my canvas bag and leave the plastics in the display case for the store owners to worry about. I had never done it, but now I do. 😃 Thank you Craig. It definitely gets more awareness from store workers and owners.

9 — Be prepared for take-out food. This is an issue that I will be looking into more in-depth, especially when in a big city. There are plenty of options, but majority of restaurants are opting to go with plastic carry-out cups, bowls and containers. I’ll take my container with me and ask them to use that instead. If I’m absolutely caught unprepared I look for a place that provides paper or aluminum options instead. Absolutely saying no to plastic.

10 — Be mindful of the companies/organizations you buy from. If the owners aren’t responsive and they don’t seem to care, stop going there, stop giving them your hard earned buck. This isn’t a protest, this is a choice indicating your preference to spend your money on somebody who has the same values as you do.

Take Action

Aside from signing the various petitions that are going on around your city, state, country about stopping plastic bags, straws, cups etc. there are a few other active things you can do:

1 — Restaurants — actively request your restaurants to stop using plastic. In every which way. You would be surprised to how receptive many owners are to these requests. They try to go and learn more about the situation. I’ve had quite a few success stories in my own day-to-day interactions, even if minor, they are businesses so it makes a bigger difference.

2 — Recycling — this is much easier than it sounds. For example, request your building management to implement a plastic bag recycling program in your building. It took our building of 450 units 3 weeks to do. It costs peanuts and usually management is open to making a positive change like this. You can find a lot of information about plastic bag recycling programs here. This is a nice starting point when looking for the full solution to implement.

Recycling isn’t a solution or answer to the plastic problem, but it’s still an improvement to just throwing them into landfill.

3 — Your voice— at any place you go, make sure to share your preference and knowledge about the topic.

4 — Your actions— Related to #3, lead by example. When your friends start noticing that you don’t get a drink at an establishment because they don’t offer non-plastic options it raises their curiosity. Plus the easiest person for you to change is you.

5 — Make some calls — Do you have a favorite company? Somebody you shop from all the time, call them. Ask them to consider using alternative products instead of plastic in packaging your stuff. For me this was FreshDirect and I must say that they have been great.

Call your local congressman and senators. Let them know, send them an email too.

6 — Your time and focus — Join a local beach/waterway clean-up effort. If you live in the NYC or Philadelphia area stop by United by Blue store and check when their next clean-up is.

7 — Your awareness — Learn your local laws on recycling for businesses. NYC has a law that requires every business to have a recycling program for paper, plastic, glass and aluminum. It’s a law. They also have a way for you to report any business who is out of compliance. Use it. Work with your city so that the business owners can be held accountable and take on responsibility.

8 — Spread the word — share A Plastic Ocean or one of the other documentaries on the topic with your friends. The more we know the better we are.

The condition of our oceans are too dire to pretend like we can go on with our lives without doing anything. It’s time we get up and take on the walk. Though it is sure to be a road full of bumps and obstacles and hills, I have deep faith and conviction that we will overcome all together and leave this Earth better than we found it.



Berna A.

Ocean Actionist. Circular Economy Consultant. Sustainability, Business, and Nature Speaker. Nature Photographer.