Plastic Waste: 10 Ways to Manage Environmental Concerns

By Sijé Vargas

reviewed by Amadou barrow

Concern for the environment is the topic on everyone’s lips. Little by little, more people are waking up and are looking for sustainable ways to help our planet.

However, it can seem that your efforts are not enough as we keep reading news about the increasing global temperature, deforestation and forest fragmentation of the Amazon, wildfires in Australia and California, melting sea ice, and many more natural disasters that remind you about the time you had to buy a plastic water bottle. What you may feel has been coined eco-anxiety. According to the American Psychological Association, eco-anxiety is “a chronic fear of environmental doom.”

In this article, we will talk about how plastic consumption influences our environment, and with that our holistic health. 

 

How does the use of plastic affect the environment?

Thousands of tons of plastic debris contaminate our oceans and have a devastating effect on marine life and birds. And humans are not exempt from the dangers of this serious pollution.

Plastic waste is inadequately disposed of, and the vast majority of what is collected for recycling is exported to countries that have been classified as underdeveloped. Environmentalists have pointed out that we must focus on countries that produce and consume excessive amounts of plastic and work with their governments, institutions, companies, and citizens to manage their consumption and recycling practices.

According to Our World in Data, China has produced the largest amount of plastic (almost 60 million tons), followed by the United States (38 million), Germany (14.5 million), and Brazil (12 million).

 

Why does the use of plastic affect my mental health?

The answer should seem obvious to us, we are talking about the only planet on which we can survive. But sadly, many have forgotten that we are harming it and we keep creating enormous amounts of plastic that the planet cannot digest. 

Indigenous communities are among the first to realize and face environmental problems due to their deep relationship with the environment and its resources. 

The United Nations has expressed that climate change exacerbates the difficulties Indigenous communities already face, including political and economic marginalization. And we must not forget that for many, the environment connects with their identity. As we lose the natural world, indigenous identity is compromised too.

The loss of certain ecosystems, such as lakes or rivers, has triggered the emotional pain and disorientation associated with changes in the physical environment in many communities.

Your feelings are valid, it’s normal, and we want to tell you that it’s okay. But we also want to remind you that it isn’t fair for you to carry that guilt on your shoulders. 

 

Is our effort sufficient to reduce plastic?

According to GreenPeace, reducing the use and impact of plastics on ecosystems is everyone’s responsibility; Governments, manufacturing companies, and consumers all play a part in this harmful cycle.

Big corporations need to adopt sustainable means of production, otherwise, all our efforts as individuals will be in vain.

 

10 ways to manage the anxiety of plastic waste

The big question now is how you can handle what you feel. Here are some tips that might help you feel better about plastic consumption.

  1. Focusing on big things: Brainstorm ways you can change to do better and concentrate on what you can accomplish. Set goals to achieve, and once you reach them, celebrate your own efforts.

  1. Connect with people who share your worries: A great piece of advice is to talk about your feelings, and if you can do so with people who understand you, all the better. Remember what you are feeling is an emotion shared by many others.

  2. Give your mind room to relax: Of course, it’s important to know what is going on in the world, but sometimes the news is overwhelming and can bring us anxiety rather than peace of mind. Every once in a while, when you need it, give yourself a break from the news, social networks, and any source that might trigger eco-anxiety.

  1. Follow followers on social media: Cultivate a positive feed and follow accounts that bring you peace, relaxation, and that focus on real efforts. Remember that perfection is not sustainable. 

  1. Be a conscious consumer: By adopting simple measures to reduce the use of plastics, you will avoid contributing to the devastation of our oceans. Be more conscious every time you decide to pay for an item you don’t need or that you can replace it with another product with less plastic or no plastic at all.

  1. Join organizations: There’s nothing better than being able to share the job with other people who are interested in climate change. One way to balance the work is by joining an NGO: Agüita con el plástico, Clean Ocean Project, and Break Free From Plastic are a few great examples. 

  1. Raise awareness: Help others to understand the importance of reducing plastic use. Work with them to find alternatives that are sustainable and biodegradable. Express your knowledge and your emotions, and share your perspective with them. Remember, we are all in the process of understanding how we can take care of our mother earth. 

  1. Support restaurants that choose to reuse: Not only will you support the local business, but you’ll also find safe places in your community where you share the same ideals as others. 

  1. Empower the next generation: Use whatever platform you have to talk to future generations about climate change. Share your suggestions with them and listen to what they have to say. Remember that many of them have grown up listening to activists like Greta Thunberg, so they may have innovative ideas.

  1. Be proactive: Use your feelings and passions to help support green initiatives. Be mindful of our consumption patterns, volunteer your time and choose wisely the people that represent you and your community. 

Addressing the impact of plastics in our oceans will not only require international agreements but also acceptance of a sustainable lifestyle on a global scale. We can certainly start by taking certain measures to reduce the use of plastics. However, remember that it is not only your job. In order to shift to a more sustainable way of life, we must work as a team, society, and community. 

Sijé Vargas
Through different social projects related to Human Rights, my education background in Literature and personal experiences as a migrant I came to the conclusion that words can help us to move forward and heal. I use writing as a method to spread the word about topics that help us imagine alternative ways of living where we are all included. I highly believe that in order to have an inclusive world we must focus on communicating the importance of holistic health and wellbeing as a key part of achieving a better life.

Amadou Barrow

My areas of expertise center around climate change and global health; Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health (RMNCAH); environmental and occupational health; health education and promotion; and health risk communications. I have experience as a lecturer at both university level in the area of health psychology, health education & promotion, water supply & sanitation, biostatistics, epidemiology and research methodology. I have published several scientific manuscripts in various reputable journals on maternal & child health morbidities and mortalities in LMIC settings. I am a passionate digital health enthusiast with a special focus on holistic wellbeing at all levels.

Clayton, S., Manning, C. M., Krygsman, K., & Speiser, M. (2017). Mental Health and Our Changing Climate: Impacts, Implications, and Guidance. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association, and ecoAmerica.

Climate Psychology Alliance. Eco-Anxiety. (2020, April 23). https://www.climatepsychologyalliance.org/handbook/451-eco-anxiety

Ritchie, H., & Roser, M. (2018). Plastic pollution. Our World in Data. https://ourworldindata.org/plastic-pollution

United Nations. (2007, September 24). Climate Change. Department of Economic and Social Affairs Indigenous Peoples. 

United Nations For Indigenous Peoples. (2015, June 5). Climate Change | United Nations For Indigenous Peoples. United Nations For Indigenous Peoples | Indigenous Peoples. https://www.un.org/development/desa/indigenouspeoples/climate-change.html

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