The Possible Journey of a Piece of Litter

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https://www.shutterstock.com/cs/search/street+litter

Say a single-use plastic bottle someway becomes litter – Imagine the possible journey of this misplaced item.  Best case scenario – you or I are strolling along, see it, and grab it.  It gets recycled and perhaps turns up again recycled into a nice fleece vest with a new life.  Or if it stays visible until March, maybe a participant of our local effort, Pick Up Boonville, snatches it and sends it to the recycling stream.

If not, perhaps the wind blows it to a storm drain or a river bank, when it rains it could flow into the Missouri River.  There is a slight chance someone from the Missouri River Relief effort retrieves it. During their 15th year in 2015, 1508 Volunteers removed 41 tons of trash along 57 miles of the river!  One year, after a 600 mile journey, a plastic Sioux Falls, South Dakota restaurant cup was rescued during the Hartsburg Missouri River Relief clean-up effort.

Or perhaps it rains for days either here or up-river, the river rises and deposits the bottle somewhere further inland where it remains for hundreds of years, or perhaps it lands on an island where someone finds it.  Or maybe the river rises again and meets it, lodges it out of the mud and sends it further downstream.   Maybe a boater will grab it or it could be so full of mud it simply sinks to the bottom of the Missouri River remaining there for hundreds of years.  Say it continues floating, and makes it to the Mississippi River.  Maybe one of Chad’s Mississippi River Clean Up participant will run across it. (This organization has been picking up now for 25 years!)  Or perhaps someone with a river home near Natchez, Mississippi will grab that bottle.  If all fails, it could float all the way past New Orleans into the Gulf of Mexico and join gravitate to the North Atlantic Gyre, a swirling pool filled with all things plastic.  Once there it could find its way to one of the five oceanic gyres – swirling heaps of garbage.   If we were on the west side of the Continental Divide, it could make its way to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the size of Texas!

Then I think back to the beginning of this journey.  If we had bottle deposit laws or if that individual used a reusable water bottle instead, the journey would never have begun.   So, if you see a discarded plastic water bottle, don’t let it get away – Grab it!

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http://www.algalita.org/mid-ocean-plastics-cleanup-schemes-too-little-too-late/
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Say No to the Straw

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© The Last Plastic Straw

While I’m sparing everybody the horrible visuals of the unfortunate turtles saddled with wayward straws stuck up their nose, I do want to share this consumption visual – the number of straws used daily in the United States could circle our planet more than two-and-a-half times a day – 500 million straws! While it’s easy to mindlessly take those “free” straws, they come at a high price.  This seemingly innocuous straw has significant environmental impact – Extracting resources, distribution, polluting our oceans and crowding our landfills.

In the early 1900s straws, made of paper and rye, became common due to the fear of polio and tuberculosis being transmitted from shared glasses. In the mid-1950s as cars became popular, fast food restaurants soon graced our roadways. Fast-food restaurants replaced glass with low-cost disposable packaging for meals and made straws commonplace accompanying drinks on the go. By 1960, those renewable paper straws were replaced with plastic, a petroleum product. To gain a strong foothold, straws were heavily marketed as “convenient” and a way to reduce illness exposure from improperly washed containers. With people eating more meals on the go, straws fling into our environment. Now, consider the implications of twenty minutes of convenience.

More demand for straws means more production, more oil and gas extraction, more electricity for production, and more gas to both ship materials to plastic manufacturers and to deliver straws to the consumer. So, more carbon emissions and pollution for a now commonplace product we rarely “need”.

There are also health implications. Like most plastics, those straws contain Bisphenol A (BPA) which mimics the activity of hormones in the body, such as estrogen, linked to many serious health risks.

With all single-use disposable products, comes the disposal end. Plastic straws are rarely recycled; they don’t biodegrade so they stay around and accumulate. According to Ocean Conservancy, straws and stirrers were the fifth most common marine plastic debris found during their 2015 coastal cleanup (cigarette butts #1). Researchers estimate 90% of our marine life and seabirds have now ingested plastics.

Luckily, this is an environmental menace we can easily avoid. If you don’t need a straw, don’t use one. When eating out, simply say “no straw please” or have more of an impact by requesting the restaurant or bar only serve straws upon request. While some restaurants have switched back to paper straws, best case practices is to avoid all unnecessary disposables. If you like straws or have a physical disability requiring one, consider buying reusable  stainless steel, glass, or bamboo straws.  At the very minimum, at least  buy paper straws – yes, they are still out there.

If by chance, my powers of persuasion are lacking, I challenge you to Google “sea turtle plastic straw” and see the consequences of one wayward plastic straw – It’s horrifying. If for no other reason, say “no to the straw” to save our marine life.  With this one single action, we will all enjoy a much cleaner environment – our air, land and oceans.

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Take the no plastic straw pledge – http://www.plasticpollutioncoalition.org/no-straw-please/