This Earth Month we are working to share information about how we, as a community, can work together to be better stewards of our environment. As part of our efforts, we are highlighting the great work being done on this front by some of our community partners. Below is an article from Miriam Silva Preas, the founder of Essex Soap Refill on single-use plastic pollution and ways that we can work together to combat this issue.
If you think of a typical day, and how much plastic you use and throw away, you may be surprised to hear that just in the US, it adds up to about 36 million tons of plastic waste each year(1). To put that in perspective, we’re talking about 3.6 million garbage trucks of plastic waste.
Over the years, our plastic consumption has steadily increased. Around 381 million tons of plastic is produced globally each year, half of which is single-use packaging plastics(2). That’s about 450 Olympic size pools of plastic produced per day!
Despite our efforts to collect waste, around eight million tons of plastic finds its way into the oceans annually (3). The truth is that the conveniences of our modern throwaway culture have made single-use plastics one of the largest pollutants of our oceans, our wildlife, and our health.
While there are many uses for plastic that are not only reasonable but important, like medical and construction uses, the problem is that it’s taken over too many aspects of our life. The culprit is packaging and single-use plastics. You buy it, use it once, and throw it away. But what really happens when you throw it away?
While recycling helps, our plastic consumption rate far exceeds what we are able to recycle. In fact, only 9% of all the plastic produced has been successfully recycled (4).
Our current single-stream recycling practices make it difficult for recycling centers to operate profitably. Food-contaminated and non-recyclable plastics are often mixed in with recyclable materials and it takes very little of this contamination to render an entire shipping container of recyclables un-recyclable, which means that it all ends up in a landfill, an incinerator, or in the ocean.
Companies that are making a difference
While living in Mexico last year, I stumbled upon a small neighborhood store that sold soap products by bulk. The idea is that you bring in your own container, refill on soap products, and pay by volume. When I came back to the North Shore, I was surprised to see that this was not easily available. That is when I decided to start Essex Soap Refill.
Essex Soap Refill
Essex Soap Refill is a neighborhood refill service that gives local consumers the opportunity to reduce their plastic consumption by refilling containers they already have with dish soap, hand soap, laundry detergent, cleaners, castile soap, shampoo, conditioner, lotion, body oil and more. Products are non-toxic, biodegradable, earth-friendly, scented with 100% essential oils, and made by companies that are committed to sustainability.
My focus is to keep my costs at a minimum so I can offer the lowest price possible of high-quality, earth-friendly products to eco-conscious consumers. We don’t have a storefront. All orders are placed online at www.essexsoaprefill.com and pick up and drop offs are coordinated through bins that are hosted in frequently visited community-oriented local businesses.
Innovation as a solution
Refill shops, like Essex Soap Refill, are just one small piece of the puzzle to solving our plastic pollution problem. There are many responsible consumer behaviors we can practice, like always having a water bottle and a cup on hand. However, if we really want to see progress, we need to think big, like:
- Holding companies that produce plastics waste responsible for proper disposal and reuse.
- Improving waste management systems and recycling programs.
- Investing in technologies that can transform plastic into new materials like construction and fuel.
- Engineering biodegradable packaging materials with smart design.
When I see the phrase “We are all in it together,” I can’t help but think in ALL the ways we are in this together. Entrepreneurs, government officials, engineers, chemists, environmentalists, all have a part to play. There is just one world, one earth, and 7.8 billion people buying more and more plastic everyday. Together we can continue to find solutions for our plastic pollution.
By Miriam Silva Preas, Founder of Essex Soap Refill
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- United States Environmental Protection Agency. Facts and Figures about Materials, Waste and Recycling (2018). Plastics: Material-Specific Data. Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/facts-and-figures-about-materials-waste-and-recycling/plastics-material-specific-data
- Science Advances. Production, use, and fate of all plastics ever made. 19 Jul 2017 • Vol 3, Issue. Retrieved from https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/sciadv.1700782#
- Science. Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean. 13 Feb 2015 • Vol 347, Issue 6223 • pp. 768-771. Retrieved from https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.1260352
- Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. Plastic pollution is growing relentlessly as waste management and recycling fall short, says OECD. 22 Feb 2022. Retrieved from https://www.oecd.org/newsroom/plastic-pollution-is-growing-relentlessly-as-waste-management-and-recycling-fall-short.htm