Entanglement. Ingestion. Starvation. These are just some of the conditions nature’s magnificent creatures are forced to endure due to our everyday plastic pollutants.

Globally, we produce over 2 billion tons of waste each year, according to The World Bank. Obviously, we have to take the large world population into account (almost 8 billion), but that doesn’t take away the fact that the waste we create with our on-the-go lifestyles has proven to be highly unsustainable for the health of the planet. Studies have shown that only 19% of waste is recycled or composted, leaving the rest to be improperly disposed of. Whether it’s sent to a landfill, incinerator, or it is left to contaminate the environment, the planet suffers with every outcome.

Plastics from our single-use products are the largest contributor to our global waste problem, and how often do we question the amount of waste we produce from our Starbucks coffee cups or sandwich wrappers? I know I like to enjoy my cold brew without a guilty conscience. However, this is the kind of ignorance that contributes to the plastic pollution crisis, and considering only 9% of plastics actually get recycled, we have a long path ahead of us.

Experts warn us about the 50 million tons of plastics that find their way into our world’s oceans, and scientists have discovered that plastics can take decades to completely break down. This all roots from the need for convenience, and opting for a waste-free lifestyle doesn’t exactly embody that idea.

Personally, I don’t like lugging around my 40-ounce metal water bottle. Not only is it heavy, but having to regularly wash it isn’t my idea of a good time, yet I still do it because it allows me a sense of pride to know I’m implementing change. Even if it doesn’t always cater to my need of convenience. Be that as it may, I’m no saint when it comes to making environmentally conscious decisions, but I know my daily accommodations do make a difference, as minor as it may seem.

Now there’s another issue. People often believe that they can’t make a difference. “I’m just one person, what does it matter?” they say. But before you know it, it’s no longer “just one person.” Soon, everyone is blindly telling themselves the same thing while the environment crumbles around them. Then they’ll cry and ask how we could’ve destroyed a whole planet, and the answer is: It all started with one person.

Don’t get me wrong, it won’t be easy, but the best things in life are never easy. In order to address the imminent threat of our single-use plastics, we need to encourage government regulation, business innovation and, most importantly, we as individuals need to make critical lifestyle changes. After all, we are the only ones to be held accountable for the current state of our environment, and we are the only ones who can restore it, because if we don’t do something now, there won’t be anything left to salvage.

Madison Boyack, age 17, attends the Northern Utah Academy for Math Engineering and Science as a senior. She will receive her diploma and associate’s degree this spring and will begin working toward her bachelor’s degree at Weber State University this fall. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her pup, building things out of recycled materials and watching the occasional telenovela to brush up on her Spanish.

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