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Opinion

The other, bigger 'oil spill': Your use of disposable plastic

If you thought the Gulf oil spill was bad enough, disposable plastic threatens our oceans on a massive scale. Refuse to use it.

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Once a day, refuse to use a plastic bag, a plastic bottle, straws, takeout containers, disposable cups, utensils, or unnecessary packaging. Start there. Phase out the single-use plastics in your life, reuse the ones you already have as much as you can, and then change your habits: Choose reusable products. Take all of your plastic containers to the nearest recycling center and don't replace them.

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Then, begin choosing products sold in glass, metal, cardboard, and paper instead of plastic. These materials can be more effectively recycled or, when it's paper, biodegrade in water or landfills.

What about jobs in disposable plastic?

According to the American Chemistry Council (ACC), roughly 1 million people make a living off developing and manufacturing plastic. But reducing plastic pollution doesn't have to mean reducing jobs.

Members of the ACC who develop plastic should keep jobs by developing new, safe, biodegradable alternatives to plastic that do not leach toxins or contaminate the earth as they biodegrade. Plastic manufacturers should have a plan for end-of-life for each of their products and own up to their responsibilities.

Recycling or even reusing alone will not reduce the plastic waste on our planet if we continue to create more and more disposable plastic products every day. As the United States buckles down to months of Gulf oil spill cleanup, we must take advantage of that momentum to save the oceans.

Plastic pollution poses a massive threat to the health of our oceans. If we don't reduce dependence upon and production of single-use plastic alongside that cleanup and recycling, we are engaged in a somewhat Sisyphean task.

Life without plastic pollution is possible. Try it.

Daniella Russo is the executive director of Plastic Pollution Coalition, a nonprofit.

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