A few days ago, Timothy Geithner was in a Q & A session with the Joint Economic Committee on Capitol Hill. Everyone had a single-use plastic water bottle at their seat. Everyone. This scene normally would seem very, well, normal. But once you understand the perils of single-use plastic, once you’ve been exposed to the crazy reality of a product that lasts 500-1,000 years in the environment but which will be used for 5 minutes, you never see such scenes the same way again. The illusion begins to become transparent as you visualize the life cycle of most plastic. If you’ve been following the Trash Island project, you likely aren’t able to see a water bottle cap in the street without imagining its journey into the sewer with the next rain, out to sea, floating inexorably toward an ocean gyre, ending in the stomach of a dead baby albatross who was fed the bottle cap lovingly by its mother.
Earlier this month, NextNow Collaboratory joined collaborator Plastic Pollution Coalition in San Francisco for dinner and discussion about the road ahead. Those present included San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, Fifth District Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, who legislated the first-in-the-Nation ban on plastic bags in chain grocery stores and drug stores (which sparked similar legislation around the world from Oakland to Canada, Paris to Beijing), and Deborah Santana, supporter of peace and social justice. All were treated to a wonderful meal and a heavy dose of reality. The Plastic Pollution website is a real education. From Plastic Pollution 101:
Plastic is forever. Plastic, which is made from petroleum, is a material that the Earth cannot digest. Every bit of plastic that has ever been created still exists, except for a small amount that has been incinerated, releasing toxic chemicals.
Plastic has become a plague. In the environment, plastic breaks down into smaller and smaller particles that absorb toxic chemicals, are ingested by wildlife on land and in the ocean, and enter the food chain that we depend upon.
Plastic affects human health. Harmful chemicals leached by plastics are already present in the bloodstream and tissues of almost every one of us.
Recycling is not a sustainable solution. The reality is that most of our plastic waste is land filled, down cycled or exported to other countries. And tragically, millions of tons of plastic are poisoning our environment.
The Pacific Garbage Patch. This accumulation of plastic fragments in the ocean is just a symptom. The real garbage patch is here with us: in our stores and homes, and increasingly inside of our own bodies.
PPC is not the only organization reporting on the problem. On November 17, CNN reported that:
- during a recent survey off the coast of California, researchers were shocked by density and pervasiveness of small plastic particles floating just below the surface;
- out of more than a hundred samples in a recent expedition, not a single net returned without little plastic particles.
- scientists say that much of the debris comes from land, rather than from ships. Litter from up to hundreds of miles inland can come from places like cars or storm drains and end up in the ocean.
Plastic Pollution is also about global warming. Earlier this year, the Stop Trashing the Climate report, written by GAIA, the Institute for Local Self Reliance and Eco-Cycle, outlined compelling evidence that preventing waste is one of the fastest, cheapest, and most effective strategies available for combating climate change.
Please become informed and sign the Single Use Plastic Emergency Response (SUPER) Hero Pledge:
Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle