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This Earth Day Say “No Thanks, Single-Use Plastics” 

Earth Day graphic
Image by Heather King

Article by: Heather King

We celebrate Earth Day every year on April 22nd to reaffirm our shared appreciation for this great planet. Earth Day is a world-wide call to action, so this year let’s pull together to minimize the effects of plastic pollution on the environment and it’s living inhabitants.

You may have heard the term “single-use” plastics. Perhaps you’ve even heard of calls to ban their use within your community. Some common examples of single-use plastics are plastic bags, straws, bottles, to-go food containers and eating utensils. These items can rarely be cleaned and re-used; they are built to be used once, then thrown away.

(Animation produced by Heather King)

Once disposed of, most plastics are slow to deteriorate and in many instances, may never fully biodegrade. Instead, they are physically broken down into smaller and smaller fragments, eventually becoming “ microplastics”. These microplastics pose a significant health risk to fish, birds, and other wildlife because they tend to bioaccumulate as they are passed up food chains to larger and larger predators. You can learn more about single-use plastics and their impact on wildlife and the environment through Single-Use Plastics 101 by the National Resource Defense Council.

As humans, we are the sole source of plastic waste and therefore responsible for its effects on the planet. Through a shift in plastic use attitudes and behaviors, we can make a global-scale difference in the amount of plastic waste that litters our landscapes and oceans. Our individual choices and behaviors can drive larger, collective efforts to reduce plastic pollution. 

The most effective tool at your immediate disposal is to simply say “no thank you” to single-use plastic. While recycling can mitigate some plastics waste, most single-use plastics are non-recyclable. A few Things You Didn’t Know About Plastics (And Recycling) can be found here.

At a larger scale, many cities have pushed for bans of the most abundant single-use plastic items, such as plastic grocery bags. Here in Virginia, Governor Northam recently signed an Executive Order to phase out single-use plastics in state agencies and on college and university campuses. As Virginia moves away from single-use plastics, we can help as a community by acquiring reusable bags, bottles and straws, then putting them to good use!

Earth Day is an opportunity to appreciate and protect our great planet and there is no better way to do that than to get involved within your community.

  • Participate in KeepVirginiaBeautiful and organize community clean ups in your area. 
  • Engage with Virginia’s local initiatives in greening efforts through
  • Offer your insight to the City of Richmond’s equity-centered climate action and resilience plan, RVAGreen2050
  • Connect virtually through Earth Day events online
  • Join the National Geographic pre-party virtual event with music performances and guest appearances on April 21 at 8:30pm.
  • View the Restore Our Earth 2021 livestream on April 22 at 12pm through

Whichever way you choose, celebrate Earth Day together through collective action and remember to say “no thanks, single-use plastics.”

Heather King explores sustainable initiatives within Virginia Commonwealth University and the Richmond community. Through science communication and the power of curiosity, she hopes to engage the public on ways to learn and connect with the environment.