Currently, the world’s human population is 7.6 billion. That’s 7.6 billion people producing, using and creating unnecessary garbage every day. Most of that garbage is incapable of going “away” in any of our lifetimes. According to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, NOAA Marine Debris Program, it could take plastic up to 450 years to completely decompose. It’s critical that people begin to consider the materials, lifespan and the effect that everyday items have on the natural environment and the billions of other species that also inhabit this planet.

Plastic pollution is creating its own environmental crisis — one that could last hundreds to thousands of years. A 2017 study published in the Science Advances journal found that between the early 1950s and 2015, 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic had been created.

The study goes on to reveal more daunting facts. Only 9 percent of that waste was recycled, 12 percent was burned and the remaining 79 percent that was “thrown away” still resides in our landfills and oceans, slowly making its way into the human food chain through various species of fish.

The Better Alternatives Now, B.A.N. List 2.0 report states that “plastic production is estimated to increase four-fold by 2050.” The report reveals a list of the top 20 most problematic single-use plastic products. That list includes products such as food wrappers, straws, takeout containers balloons, six-pack holders, diapers, etc.

An eco-friendly fourth

A few years ago, I made a personal decision to simply care more. To care more about my carbon footprint, the waste I create, the products that I buy and the food that I eat. My goal was to reduce the negative strain that I place on the natural environment. It’s a process that requires a person to be more conscientious, to break certain habits and to find alternatives.

I love to celebrate the holidays. However, I can’t help but cringe when I think about the amount of single-use plastic people “throw away.” There are so many cups, plates, straws, etc. all used once and probably never recycled.

America adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4. It also happens to be my fiance’s birthday which means a few days of celebration at St. Pete Beach with friends, family, food, drinks and fireworks. We stayed at the newly renovated Sirata Beach resort. As we unpacked our things I began to set up my recycle station with Publix paper bags. It’s my vacation recycle method since so many hotels and resorts don’t have accessible recycle bins.

Got to kiss a lot of frogs

Waking up July 5, I expected to look out my balcony and, like previous years, find a trashed beach. I expected to wait for the city, beach employees or volunteers to clean it up before it floated into the ocean. It stunned me. The sun was rising and I looked out to an immaculate beach.

On the first night, a group of us decided to try Rum Runners, the Sirata’s beachfront bar and grille. We ordered our drinks, and as I saw my waitress return, I immediately realized that I forgot to tell her “please no straws.” She passed me my Tito’s and cranberry, and I was ecstatic. Not because I was anticipating an alcoholic drink after such a long day, but because it was a paper straw. I was even more ecstatic to have my waiter at The Frog Pond the next morning asking if anyone at the table needed a straw, he added that not using one would be better for sea turtles and our oceans.

Where the grass might be greener

Sometimes it’s the smallest things that make the biggest impact on the environment. “Help Save Florida’s Water Resources” signs were placed around our room with the desire that guests reuse their linens and towels. I later realized that each floor of the hotel contained a big blue and gray bin labeling three sections: paper, glass/cans/plastic, and trash/compost.

The eco-friendly efforts throughout this resort trigger a bit of research. I discovered that the Sirata is one of St. Pete Beaches’ few resorts holding a Green Lodging Certification. These lodging facilities voluntarily join the program with the intent to set sustainability and conservation goals while improving their performance. This means anything from energy conservation, waste reduction and recycling, to employee and public education.

Although there are only a few hotels and resorts in St. Pete Beach that have joined the program, it’s a step in the right direction. Other hotels include the Don CeSar and the TradeWinds Islands resorts.

This mini holiday vacation gave me new hope for our environment. It feels good to know that as a state we are making noticeable changes for the better.

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