After Stav Friedman, a graduate student and researcher of microplastics, moved to Israel in January of 2018, she noticed the copious amounts of litter, particularly plastic, that were left on the beaches. She tried to find a beach cleanup or environmental group that she could be a part of. She searched on social media and looked into different environmental organizations, but she could not find anything in Israel. So, she decided to take things into her own hands.
“It took me about two months to organize my own cleanup, which was in March of 2018. I advertised it on Facebook and Instagram,” she recalls. “In the end, 12 people showed up.” While this seems like a small group, this was the jumping-off point for Plastic Free Israel.
At her self-organized beach cleanup, Friedman was able to meet like-minded people from environmental organizations who helped her establish Plastic Free Israel. Plastic Free Israel has evolved into a grassroots movement with monthly beach cleanups at different locations around Tel Aviv, campaigns focusing on how to reduce plastic, and seminars, and movie panels regarding environmental issues, including plastic waste.
The Problem is Plastic
According to Plastic Free Israel, plastic production is at an all-time high, with more plastic produced in the last ten years than in the previous century. Between 22 and 43% of plastic worldwide is disposed of in landfills instead of being recycled properly, and about 10 million metric tons of plastic enter the oceans each year. An estimated 5.25 trillion plastic particles weighing 268,940 tons are currently floating in the oceans. This affects over 700 marine species. Even the plastic packaging we use has the potential to leach into the food and water we consume if exposed to severe heat or if the plastic is deformed, worn out, or from a low-grade quality.
Wet wipes, single-use plastics, and cigarette butts are a major problem in Israel. “We had a clean-up at Gordon beach and picked up over 15,000 cigarette butts in less than an hour,” she says.
Microplastics are Everywhere
Microplastics become pollutants in a few possible ways. They are either added to cosmetics (shower gels, toothpaste, etc.) or other products and eventually make their way into the sewerage systems, from where they flow into the ocean. They are also formed when plastics are broken down into small pieces due to prolonged exposure to the sun’s UV radiation through photodegradation, waves energy, salt, and wind. These fragments (usually between 5 mm to a few micrometers) are ubiquitous; they are found in the ice sheets of the Arctic Ocean and even on distant mountaintops of the French Pyrenees.
Microplastics have found their way into our daily lives as well. The water we drink, dust, and even in products we eat, including sea salt, beer, and honey contain microplastics.
Coffee Cup Campaign
As a consumer, Plastic Free Israel believes that you have the power to speak up and change the way that the government views plastics, how schools consume plastic, and how businesses and industries, such as the fashion and food industries, produce plastics.
The coffee campaign was started by Plastic Free Israel with the goal of reducing the number of disposable coffee cups used in Israel. Single-use coffee cups are made of paper but are also lined with polyethylene. This combination of paper and plastic makes it very hard to recycle, and thus it’s not done in Israel. Therefore, Plastic Free Israel has partnered with a number of local coffee shops that will offer discounts to people who bring their own reusable cups.
“People need to get more comfortable with reusing materials instead of disposing of them. It is hard in Israel because people love their to-go cups,” says Friedman. She put a research team together that talked to different coffee shops, in order to discuss incentivizing those who bring their own cups. “This kind of campaign is effective in western countries, and now, there has been momentum here,” she adds.
Through social media, this campaign has grown, and more people and companies have gotten involved. Plastic Free Israel hopes to have this campaign reach the big coffee shop networks in Israel.
Slow it Down – Tips for Living a Plastic-Free Life
“I like the idea of slowing down. Sit down and have a cup of coffee. Don’t ask for it to go. Have it in a real mug and enjoy that over a paper cup,” exclaims Friedman. “Such simple little changes can develop into a nice lifestyle. Make food at home and bring it in a non-plastic lunchbox. Bring cutlery and a water bottle. Remember those things and to slow down a little bit. It’s a really great and satisfying way of life,” she adds.
Another way to reduce plastic pollution and pollution in general, is probably the most simple thing a person can do. If you see trash outside, pick it up! According to the Plastic Free Israel website, “picking up a few pieces here or there is one step towards making a difference. We are all role models for the people around us!”
The Sustainable Baby Steps blog gives a list of plastic products that can be replaced by reusable ones. Some examples include using a keyboard made out of bamboo, stainless steel cooking utensils, and wooden toothbrushes.
How To Get Involved
Plastic Free Israel has since grown from 12 participants. “Sometimes, we have over 100 people during our collaborative beach-cleanups, where we partner with different school groups and organizations. We’ve even partnered with the European Union.”
So far, Plastic Free Israel has had 19 beach cleanups with over 900 volunteers, removing 5,500 kilograms of trash from Israel’s coastline. They also have over 11,000 followers on Facebook and post about their monthly beach cleanups as well as other events on their website, Facebook, and Instagram (@plasticfree.israel).
“We are not funded; we are grassroots. Everyone is a volunteer. We have really passionate and great volunteers,” says Friedman. However, since a lot of the events and campaigns are based on volunteer availability, Plastic Free Israel is always looking for more people to join its cause. Friedman emphasizes that they are in need of regular volunteers, not just for beach cleanups, who will keep up with campaigns, create social media content, and write content. In order to get involved, Friedman says to contact her via email on the contact page or send a message on Facebook or Instagram.
“It is an amazing movement, and I am so happy to see it grow,” Friedman concludes.
This ZAVIT article was also published in NoCamels on 01/15/2020.