This is what I was asked when I told someone that I was using a mug instead of the cup they offered because I didn’t like using single-use items. In this situation, it was a polystyrene cup I didn’t want to use. Polystyrene is most commonly known as Styrofoam, which is actually a brand name.
If you’ve read this article, you’ll remember me saying I’m not good at confrontation. In many situations, this manifests in quick responses that aren’t thought through. In this situation, it was the same. I quietly chuckled and shook my head, despite that not being what I wanted to say. In reality, yes, I would gladly wash that mug. It would take thirty seconds (if that) and would save one polystyrene cup from going into the landfill.
“What’s one disposable cup against the other millions of other people who throw out those same cups daily?” you might ask.
Let me broaden the scope here. People scoff and mock every time a business swaps out plastic straws for paper, either saying that one straw or straws in general (because they’re small) don’t make a difference in the grand scheme of things. These people fail to see the bigger picture. Let’s crunch some numbers.
In Canada alone, approximately 57 million straws are used daily. There’s 365 days in a year. That adds up to 20,805,000,000 straws. That’s nearly 21 billion. Every. Single. Year. And that’s in Canada alone.
Plastic bags are another example. Approximately 15 billion plastic bags are used each year in Canada.
Polystyrene? More than 14 million tonnes of it is produced worldwide every year and only a tiny fraction is actually recycled. It also takes about 500 years to decompose (although it doesn’t technically “decompose”) and scientists believe it’s carcinogenic.
So why does that one cup mean everything against the millions and billions of other single-use items thrown away each day?
Because it adds up.
That one cup isn’t just one cup. The bags, straws, takeout containers, disposable utensils, plates, and cups, it may just be “one” thing you’re using today, but that mindset equals the billions tomorrow. Until one day, the planet will drown in garbage and we will be without clean food, clean water, and clean air.
There are already microplastics in our food and water, already copious amounts of pollution in our air, already animals species going extinct and oceans and lakes being clogged with trash. We are already being killed by this mindless, thoughtless, lazy lifestyle, because people would rather grab a single-use item than take ten minutes to do the dishes.
I’m never planning on having kids, but for those who do, I can’t fathom why more parents aren’t being more eco-friendly. I would have to assume that they, if anyone, would be the environment’s strongest advocates. After all, their kids are one of the most important things to them. Yet most would still rather set their kids’ future up to be bleak, painful, and even possibly deadly than reduce their negative footprint.
What I have learned, both from observation and personal experience is that humans usually don’t learn until it’s too late, because humans don’t learn unless it directly affects them. This can happen in many ways, like the person who only decides to lose weight after a heart attack or diabetes, or the smoker who quits only after being diagnosed with cancer. They know it’s not healthy, but they continue to do it until something severe happens. In this situation, it’s already affecting people, but people as a whole won’t learn to be more environmentally-conscious until it’s directly affecting their resources and they feel the sharp pangs of hunger, get ill from tainted water, and struggle to breathe. Then they will say “We should have done something.” but by then it will be too late.
I hope I’m wrong this time. I hope that by educating people of the severity of the issue that they will realize it and make the appropriate changes. Thankfully, Canada will be banning single-use plastics in a couple of years just as some other countries have already done, and I hope more take this step as well. We don’t have to be perfect immediately. I know that’s an unrealistic expectation. Even I still use single-use items more often than I’d like to admit (although still significantly less than the average person). But each step we take to reduce our consumption of these single-use products is a step in the right direction.
So let me ask you…
Would you wash the dishes?