It’s a Famous Line from The Graduate…Plastics!

We arrive at the 4th of July after a particularly tumultuous month of political news. You will probably take some time to observe the holiday by reflecting on where we are in the movement toward our democratic ideals and our responsibilities to the wider world. When celebrating the Declaration of Independence we try to be mindful that among the grievances against England and George III, the Declaration complained: “He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people”. Today this grievance takes a new – environmental - form. Globally our use of plastic is ravaging and plundering our waterways, coasts, oceans and destroying our health. There are steps all of us can take to stop and reverse this devastation. July’s summer and outdoor life activities give rise to Plastic Free July. So while picnicking and reveling in fireworks take action to protect our drinking water and our oceans by choosing to “unplastic” your life.

The plastic bottles, bags and takeaway containers that we use for just a few minutes are manufactured from a material that lasts forever. That’s whyPlastic Free Julybegins with refusing to buy and then reduce and reuse plastic. Recycling is important, but it will never catch up with rapidly expanding consumption. Although many plastic products can be recycled, the actual rates of recycling are low – particularly away from home at events, food halls and public places. Compounding the problem, plastic intended to be recycled is now piling up as China has become more selective about the plastics that it will buy for its recycling industry. Indeed, much of the plastic that we attempt to recycle ends up in landfills after a long journey from our homes.

Every bit of plastic ever produced still exists in some form and in the first 10 years of this century the world economy produced more plastic than the entire 20th century. Half of all plasticis used once and thrown away. The average American throws away 185 pounds of plastic each year. Over 500 million straws are used and thrown in the trash each day in the US alone. World wide 35 billion plastic water bottles are discarded and approximately 500 billion plastic bags are used every year. 

Plastic pollution is one of the greatest threats to ocean health worldwide and images of plastics in the marine environment are haunting. For many, the idea of this “garbage patch” conjures up images of islands of trash floating on the surface. In reality, these patches are almost entirely made of tiny pieces of plastic. Eventually, these break down into smaller and smaller pieces – microplastics-  that are ingested by almost all sea life. The results include  massive fatalities resulting from ingestion, starvation, suffocation, infection, drowning, and entanglement.To paraphrase the Declaration of Independence, WE are “ravaging our seas!”

Call To Action

Tackling plastic in the ocean begins here on land. This means changing our shopping habits but it is a simple change. Here are some ideas. If you can’t find these products in a local store then hold your breath and buy them from Amazon.  

  1. Use your own drink bottles, takeaway cups and reusable straws. Five of the top 10 plastics in ocean debris are associated with beverages.
  2. Replacesingle-use disposable productswith compostables.  Forks, plates, cups, knives and bags are all available. Put a compact set in your car or day pack. Beeswrap replaces plastic wrap. 
  3. For those of you dedicated to weekly contact with your Congress people, call and tell them to vote NO on H. R. 200 which would undo decades of progress protecting the health of America’s fisheries and those who fish for a living.  It weakens science-based conservation of U.S. fish populations and increases the risk of overfishing by removing annual catch limits for many species.

Use these links to find ways to reduce your use of plastic now and in the future.