Do your part and keep Earth green

Mass quantities of garbage are not just affecting our land. Our oceans are being affected as well.

The 2008 Pixar animated film “WALL-E” painted a daunting picture of a trash-covered Earth.While viewers could not help falling in love with the adorable robot programmed to clean up the mess the humans left behind, many also walked away pondering serious questions about the reality of the Earth’s trash problem and its future.

The trash in the ocean is coming from intentional littering -- like tossed cigarette butts -- and unintentional littering, like adding trash to an overflowing garbage, said Allison Schutes, Trash Free Seas program coordinator with the nonprofit Ocean Conservancy.

Schutes, who organizes the annual International Coastal Cleanup, said most of the materials being collected in the cleanup are plastic.

Greenpeace statistics support that. According to its website, 10 percent of the 100 million tons of plastic produced each year is ending up in the sea.

The plastic debris is trapped in the ocean’s circular currents, forming “garbage patches.” The Great Eastern Pacific Garbage Patch and the Western Pacific Garbage Patch, when combined, are estimated to be twice the size of the continental United States.

This plastic breaks down slowly, over hundreds of years, and it is harming marine life.

While loggerhead sea turtles are killed after ingesting larger pieces of plastic, like a bag that looks like a jellyfish, “small plastics look appealing to sea birds or fish,” Schutes said.

And when trash collects on the ocean’s surface, it blocks sunlight from reaching plankton and algae below, creating problems for the entire food chain.

 “A simple solution is to eliminate plastics,” Schutes said. “But they play an important role in our lives.”

Many families use plastic daily. Plastic is lightweight and durable. And some plastic items are needed for the safety of our families, like helmets and other protective gear.

If families cannot eliminate plastics, how can they help the environment?

“Disposing of trash properly is one of the most important key things people can do,” Schutes said.

Many recycling facilities provide households with free bins. Visit your city’s recycling center website to order bins if you don’t have one already. Find out what plastics your company recycles and share this knowledge with your family.

Or take it one step further. Bring your family on a tour of your local recycling center. Or speak to your child’s teacher about organizing one.

A tour “gives you a more complete look at our recycling and trash infrastructure,” Schutes said.

Another thing to teach children is to reuse items whenever possible, which will reduce the amount of recyclables and other garbage making its way into our landfills and oceans.

Instead of purchasing a new cup for coffee every day, “take a mug to a coffee shop,” Schutes said.

And use reusable water or glass bottles and Sippy cups and thermoses for the children in your household, instead of contributing to the purchase of the 2.5 million water bottles used daily by Americans.

Parents and children should also consider using reusable straws.

During the 2013 International Coastal Cleanup, “volunteers picked up over 611,000 straws,” says Schutes.

Carry fun, curly straws or aluminum straws in your purse or diaper bag.

“A simple, no straw please (at a restaurant) can make a huge impact,” Schutes continues.

With the estimation of over a million sea-birds and one hundred thousand marine mammals and sea turtles being killed each year by ingestion of plastics or entanglement, parents should also be teaching children about the importance of reusing plastic bags in stores or not using them at all.

“Keep reusable bags in the car or in backpacks,” says Schutes.

Or have children decorate their own canvas bags with paint and stamps. Children can bring the bag to the grocery store and feel a part of the recycling process when the bagger uses the decorated bag for groceries.

If you forget your reusable bags and must bring home plastic bags, reuse them as trash can liners.

Reusing different pieces of plastic can also be fun for children when it comes to making crafts.

Look on Pinterest and other websites for “fun creative crafts you can do with trash,” Schutes says.

Children can make magnets out of trash or stamps out of bottle tops and corks.

Families can also learn how to “Enviroshop,” which stops waste before it happens, prevents waste at its source and makes less waste.

A consumer can “Enviroshop” by buying loose or in bulk, instead of in packages. Buying concentrates and larger sizes minimizes packaging, which means less waste.

“Buy reusable and refillable containers,” says Puz. “And look for products that have already been recycled.”

Shoppers can also “look for natural alternatives to chemical cleaners, such as baking soda, vinegar and lemon juice,” Puz concludes.

Last, but not least, teach your children the importance of cleaning up the beach.

“Take a family trip to the beach,” Schutes says.

Have one person pick up a piece of trash when leaving the beach.

“When you see trash on the beach, do what you can, when you can,” says Schutes. “Right then and there you’ve made a huge difference.”


Make a difference at home:
1. Dispose of trash properly.
2. Visit your local recycling facility.
3. Use glass bottles, reusable coffee mugs, plastic bottles or Sippy cups daily.
4. Use reusable straws.
5. Bring reusable bags when you go shopping and decorate your own.
6. Make crafts out of trash.
7. Enviroshop.
8. Do your part to clean up the beach.
9. Check out Ocean Conservancy’s free mobile application “Rippl” that helps families remember green habits.

Chrissie Ferguson is a freelance writer and the mother of three young boys. She is also the Director of Children’s Ministries at the Royal Poinciana Chapel in Palm Beach. Visit her mom blog at soundoflittlefeet.blogspot.com