The 50th anniversary of Earth Day was April 22, so let’s talk trash for a moment. The plastic kind. Bags, bottles, cutlery, straws, containers, razors, cosmetics, and so much more. Around the world, in our effort to package everything imaginable over the years, we are slowly clogging up the environment with single-use plastics.
We’ve become a disposable society, and according to Pew Research, we produce up to 13 million tons of plastic waste and about a garbage truck equivalent is dumped into the ocean every minute. It is threatening marine ecosystems and the people who depend on them.
The scary fact is that plastic is not technically biodegradable – unless you think taking more than 400 years to decompose is ok. Plastics are produced from natural gas, feedstocks derived from natural gas processing, and feedstocks derived from crude oil refining,” says Energy Administration Information (EIA).
Even more shocking is that by 2050, the World Economic forum reported that there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by weight. Working with that same timeline, the journal Science Advances estimates that about 12 billion tons of plastic waste will be in our landfills or natural environment if current plastic production continues.
Some of you reading this may not care: Maybe you don’t eat fish. Maybe you don’t think you’ll still be alive. Maybe you don’t think you can make a difference, but you can. Future generations of humans and wildlife depend on our ability to care and take action.
In a 2019 Pew Research Center survey, 56% of U.S. adults say protecting the environment should be a top priority for the president and Congress, while 44% says the same about dealing with global climate change.
I’m not holding my breath. We all know government agendas are packed and the lobbyists and groups that yell the loudest get the most attention.
Less than nine percent of all plastic is recycled in the U.S. and even if you actively recycle, that’s not enough. Recycling facilities cannot handle all the trash and millions of Americans are not following proper recycling protocol. Republic Services, a local waste collector said, “We collect the items in the curbside recycling container. Once those items arrive to the recycling facility, they are sorted or processed. If the items are not recyclable, items such as garden hoses, dirty diapers, plastic grocery bags, etc. – these items are trash and they will go to the landfill. They cannot be recycled. It is important that residents who participate in the recycling program put only items that can be recycled (cardboard, newspapers, soda cans, etc.) into their recycling container.”
So, what do you do in the meantime? You make simple small lifestyle changes. You purchase shopping bags and remember to take them into every store. You buy in bulk when you can and carry your own containers or produce bags to the store. You can start asking area fast food chains to use biodegradable plastics, or better yet, carry your own utensils. You can refuse straws and buy a stainless steel one. You can buy a water filter for your home and bottle your own water in your own glass or metal water bottle. You can stop buying plastic toothbrushes and razors.
Is it inconvenient? Maybe a bit but small changes will yield big results if we all do our part. Teach your kids and everyone around you that celebrating Earth Day every day is the only way to protect the planet.
By Sonia Duggan • [email protected]