Plastic is the most prevalent type of debris in aquatic environments, and single-use plastics are a major source of this pollution.
Photos like NatGeo Wildlife Photographer of the Year, Justin Hofman’s shot of a tiny seahorse anchoring itself to a plastic cotton swab are heartbreaking reminders of the human impact on our oceans. This problem is also affecting our rivers and streams, which, as a visit to the Aquarium will show, are ultimately connected to the sea. Over time, these items break down but don’t fully biodegrade, creating fragments (microplastics) that can be consumed by animals, impacting their ability to feed as well as contaminating the seafood people enjoy.
Studies have shown that this problem can’t be solved by current recycling efforts alone. We have to reduce the amount of plastics – particularly single-use varieties – that we consume in the first place. Erasing small items like plastic grocery bags, drinking straws and to-go containers from our daily routines can make a big difference on the amount of harmful plastic that ends up in our waterways.
Did you know that the average American throws away nearly 185 pounds of plastic a year? Reduce your plastic use with some of these simple solutions from our gift shop (or wherever is easiest for you.)
1) Skip the (Single-Use Plastic) Straw
Plastic straws are one of the most ubiquitous - but avoidable – types of plastic items found during clean ups. Skipping the straw is a simple way to cut out plastic from your daily life. (Scary fact: Americans use around 500 million plastic straws every day!) But when a straw is necessary, switching to reusable options can go a long way.
2) Drink more water + save our waterways!
Speaking of sipping, another culprit in the plastic problem is the single-use water bottle. Americans used about 50 billion plastic water bottles last year! Carrying a reusable water bottle can keep countless bottles from landfills or from reaching lakes, rivers and the ocean. Metal containers are a great choice, while some specially-made reusable plastic versions are now biodegradable. (And while you’re at the Aquarium or IMAX Theater, you can fill your reusable bottle at one of our special refilling stations – which have replaced thousands of plastic bottles!
3) Bags, bags, bags
Plastic shopping bags and even sandwich or snack bags can do particular harm when they enter aquatic environments. Marine dwellers like sea turtles can’t always tell the difference between a bag and one of their favorite snacks – jellyfish. Mistakes like this can lead to animals ingesting or becoming entangled in plastic bags. Americans use around 100 billion plastic bags each year, which can add up to a serious problem for wildlife. Keeping reusable shopping bags in your car and carrying a reusable lunch box with cloth sandwich and snack zipper bags are easy ways you can help.
Reusable Sandwich Bag
4) Make sure that to-go box stays put
A container used to quickly save the last few bites of a tasty meal from your favorite restaurant can affect the ocean for generations. But start bringing your own to-go box on your nights out and you can help keep countless containers from damaging aquatic environments. Lots of these bring-along containers are collapsible to fit easily into any purse or bag.
Collapsible Lunch Box
The Tennessee Aquarium is part of a coalition of aquariums nationwide campaigning to reduce single-use plastics and encouraging visitors to choose environmentally friendly alternatives. Learn more from the Aquarium's Vice President of Conservation Science and Education Dr. Anna George.