“Life In Plastic. It’s Fantastic”?: The 4 R’s of Reducing Plastic Pollution

Barbie mania is in full swing once again thanks to the newly released “Barbie” movie by Greta Gerwig. So, naturally, Aqua’s “Barbie Girl” is everywhere! Now, don’t get me wrong, I am a child of the 90’s and am a total sucker for that song, but I was listening to it the other day and a specific lyric got me thinking: is life in plastic fantastic? 


Since the invention of plastic in the late 1800’s, plastic products have been finding their way to our homes and, more importantly, into our environment. The first man-made plastic products, exhibited in 1862, were medallions, combs, and knife handles…all expendable items. As time and industry have progressed, plastics have also littered our landscapes, our oceans, and even our bodies. A study conducted in 2021 even found microplastics in human placentas for the first time.  

But what even is plastic?? And why is it such a problem?

Plastic is a synthetic polymer made from petroleum by-product produced in crude oil refineries…or, as my scientist friend put it, “solids made from dead dino juice”. There are various types of plastic, but, for the most part, they are all made of the same material: petroleum. The different properties of plastics come from different production processes, additives, and modifications. That is why the plastic on your phone is durable and hard while your plastic soda bottle remains flimsy and soft. Because of this versatility, plastic can be used for tons of different things. This is why it is produced at such a high rate…and, consequently, disposed of at a high rate, too. 

According to Greenpeace.org, out of the 51 million tons of U.S household generated plastic waste in 2021, only 2.4 million tons were “recycled”. That’s a whopping 4.7%…and that only includes U.S households. Not retail stores. Not hospitals. Not restaurants. Just households. The discarded items then end up in landfills, on our streets, and in our oceans where they slowly break down into tinier and tinier pieces called microplastics that pollute our air, our drinkable water, and our bodies. 

Before becoming microplastics, however, these products have a long time to accumulate and poison our environment. The Pacific Ocean houses what’s known as the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” or “Pacific Trash Vortex”. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP), is, really, two collections of debris caught in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre that capture plastic within their currents. According to The Ocean Cleanup, the GPGP “covers an estimated surface area of 1.6 million square kilometers, an area twice the size of Texas or three times the size of France”. This makes the GPGP the largest of the five oceanic plastic accumulation sites.

Accumulation of plastics within the environment can have devastating effects on the local wildlife and delicate ecosystems. Often, wildlife will mistake plastic waste for food or become entangled in plastic and die as a result. These plastic islands also make it difficult for underwater plant life to photosynthesize since the sun has trouble penetrating the plastic layer. This destroys a vital part of ocean-life food chains that affect all wildlife involved from plants, to krill, to whales. And these are only examples of oceanic pollution.     


PLASTIC SOLUTION? The 4 R’s and a Bonus A – Tips for Impact

Not all is lost however, opportunities for change are everywhere and they start with you!


The first two R’s are Refuse/Reduce, and they are arguably the most important. Changing consumer habits is absolutely crucial in the fight against plastic pollution. Less Demand = Less Supply = Less Waste. 

  • Refuse single-use plastic products when possible
    • Drinking Straws
    • To-go Utensils 
    • Soda bottles
    • Tampons with Plastic Applicators 
    • Etc.
  • Be a cognizant buyer
    • Consider packaging when purchasing items
    • Consider opting for glass, metal, wood, or fabric products in lieu of plastic ones
    • Consider making your own products like soap or deodorant 
  • Be aware of bags
    • Take reusable produce bags/shopping bags
    • Don’t use a bag if you don’t need one
      • For small 1 item purchases

Reducing our dependence on plastic items takes a lot of conscious effort and research but it is the easiest way to make an impact.



The next R on our mission is Reuse. Reusing plastic items, if sanitary to do so, is a great way to keep already produced plastics from becoming pollution. There are countless ways to reuse items…the only limit is your imagination!

NOTE: If you already have plastic items, like plastic food storage containers or plastic hangers, use them for as long as you can! Tossing old plastic for new non-plastic is both a step forward and a step back…you already have the items, so give them a good long life. Reuse them ‘til you can reuse them no more! And be a cognizant buyer moving forward. 



Recycle is the last R. However, it is not an easy step to navigate. The world of recycling is, often, a confusing landscape of politics, capitalism, and, unfortunately, lies. In recent years, several people have exposed the recycling agenda as a corporate invention to “greenwash” their pollution driven business practices and ease the minds of consumers. A 2020 NPR investigation titled “How Big Oil Misled The Public Into Believing Plastic Would Be Recycled” highlights how the initial recycling ads were funded by plastic industry moguls like Exxon and Chevron because “ selling recycling sold plastic, even if it wasn’t true”. It also implies that most plastic ends up in landfills anyways because recycling just isn’t economical for their bottom line. 

If you’re anything like me, a life-long recycler, that news is pretty discouraging, but we shouldn’t give up hope. If it can’t be refused or reused and it is, indeed, recyclable plastic…RECYCLE IT ANYWAYS! We said earlier that only 4.7% of recyclable household plastics were recycled in 2021. We gotta bump those numbers up. Recycling plants create jobs, and if we make it a profitable industry by recycling more, then maybe that will encourage companies to invest in recycling the right way. . 

Learn about your city’s recycling programs. Most cities have a recycle pick-up day for houses and provide the necessary bins. There are also several drop-off areas for recycling. Most of the information you need is a simply Google search away. If you live in the Albuquerque metro area, this link will tell you what you need to know. 



This brings us to the final piece of our puzzle: action. Without action, there can be no reaction. You are the final glorious piece for change. You complete the picture. Without you and your actions….everything stays the same. BUT if you act consciously and positively, we might make a difference. 


Til next time,


Add Your Comment