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!
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.
Summer is finally here –time for picnics! I can buy 170 Styrofoam plates for just $3.97. What a bargain! Or not. Time to “Pause”.
In 1937, Dow Chemical introduced Styrofoam to the US, an expanded polystyrene foam petroleum based product. A 1986 an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Report named the process of creating polystyrene as the fifth largest creator of hazardous waste. In 2000 the EPA determined styrene as a possible human carcinogen.
Many sources report, by volume Styrofoam uses 25-30 percent of the landfill space. Once there, it never decomposes, breaking down into smaller pieces. The wind carries these particles and other Styrofoam litter throughout the environment and into our waterways. Styrofoam is disastrous for animals, birds, and marine life as they mistaken these toxic particles for food, choking them and clogging their digestive systems. As Styrofoam accumulates, it also puts our health at risk when we eat fish.
Styrofoam is commonly used for egg cartons, beverage cups, plates, bowls, produce/meat trays, take-out food and packaging peanuts. The Sierra Club reports each year Americans throw away 2.5 billion Styrofoam coffee cups every year, enough to circle the earth 436 times – just One Styrofoam product!
While technology for recycling polystyrenes is available, the melt-down process is toxic, the market is very small, it is not cost effective and not available locally.
Progress is being made. Some entities are outlawing polystyrene foam (Taiwan, Portland, New York City and several cities in California). Scientists are developing alternatives. Bagasse take-out containers made of crushed stalks of sugar cane and sturdy paper boxes are now available.
How can you help? Use your Consumer Purchasing Power and stop buying it and help me educate store and restaurant managers and your friends! Instead of Styrofoam coffee cups, use reusable mugs or paper insulated cups. Instead of Styrofoam plates and bowls, use reusable dishware, or paper plates. Give UPS Styrofoam peanuts to reuse; instead use shredded newspaper or real popcorn. Don’t buy take-out food unless they use bagasse, paper boxes/bags or aluminum foil – better yet, bring your own container. Take your Styrofoam egg cartons to the Farmer’s Market for reuse and grab some goodies. Avoid produce packaged in Styrofoam trays! Throw big Styrofoam packaging blocks into your attic for insulation. Event Organizers – Use paper insulated cups, #1 plastic cups (recyclable) & fiber or bagasse clamshells, paper bags or aluminum foil. And pick up Styrofoam litter so it doesn’t have a chance to break-down and wreak havoc! We need to tackle this menace!
A September 2008 photo released by the Ocean Conservancy on March 10, 2009, shows a trash-covered beach in Manilla, Philippines. (Tamara Thoreson Pierce/Ocean Conservancy/AP)
There is a lot of plastic in the world’s oceans.
It coagulates into great floating “garbage patches” that cover large swaths of the Pacific. It washes up on urban beaches and remote islands, tossed about in the waves and transported across incredible distances before arriving, unwanted, back on land. It has wound up in the stomachs of more than half the world’s sea turtles and nearly all of its marine birds, studies say. And if it was bagged up and arranged across all of the world’s shorelines, we could build a veritable plastic barricade between ourselves and the sea.
But that quantity pales in comparison with the amount that the World Economic Forum expects will be floating into the oceans by the middle of the century.
If we keep producing (and failing to properly dispose of) plastics at predicted rates, plastics in the ocean will outweigh fish pound for pound in 2050, the nonprofit foundation said in a report Tuesday.
According to the report, worldwide use of plastic has increased 20-fold in the past 50 years, and it is expected to double again in the next 20 years. By 2050, we’ll be making more than three times as much plastic stuff as we did in 2014.
Meanwhile, humans do a terrible job of making sure those products are reused or otherwise disposed of: About a third of all plastics produced escape collection systems, only to wind up floating in the sea or the stomach of some unsuspecting bird. That amounts to about 8 million metric tons a year — or, as Jenna Jambeck of the University of Georgia put it to The Washington Post in February, “Five bags filled with plastic for every foot of coastline in the world.”
The report came a day before the start of the glitzy annual meeting arranged by the World Economic Forum to discuss the global economy. This year’s meeting in Davos, Switzerland, is centered on what the WEF terms “the fourth industrial revolution” — the boom in high-tech areas like robotics and biotechnology — and its effect on the widening gulf between the wealthy and the world’s poor.
But the plastic situation — fairly low-tech and more than a century old at this point — is a reminder that we still haven’t quite gotten the better of some of the problems left over from the first few “industrial revolutions.”
According to the report, more than 70 percent of the plastic we produce is either put in a landfill or lost to the world’s waterways and other infrastructure. Plastic production accounts for 6 percent of global oil consumption (a number that will hit 20 percent in 2050) and 1 percent of the global carbon budget (the maximum amount of emissions the world can produce to prevent global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius). In 2050, the report says, we’ll be spending 15 percent of our carbon budget on soda bottles, plastic grocery bags and the like.
Once it gets washed into waterways, the damage caused by plastics’ presence costs about $13 billion annually in losses for the tourism, shipping and fishing industries. It disrupts marine ecosystems and threatens food security for people who depend on subsistence fishing.
Besides which, all that plastic in the water isn’t too great for the animals trying to live there.
The data in the report comes from interviews with more than 180 experts and analysis of some 200 studies on “the plastic economy.”
The report was published on the same day that a study came out in the journal Nature Communications asserting that the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization is drastically underestimating the overfishing of the oceans. The study, from researchers Daniel Pauly and Dirk Zeller of the University of British Columbia’s Sea Around Us project, found that global catches between 1950 and 2010 were probably 50 percent higher than previously thought — meaning that damage to the world’s fish stocks was also much worse.
Overall, it was not a good news day for anyone with fins.
But both reports gave some signs for optimism. Pauly and Zeller told The Washington Post that the underestimation of how much humans were fishing means the U.N. also underestimated how much fish the oceans can provide.
“If we rebuild stocks, we can rebuild to more than we thought before,” Pauly said. “Basically, the oceans are more productive than we thought before.”
And the World Economic Forum report, though not quite so sunny, suggests that there are ways to offset all this plastic we’re making and discarding. Countries can implement incentives to collect waste and recycle it, use more efficient or reusable packaging and improve infrastructure so that less trash slips through the system and into the seas.
Many of us remember those glorious litter-free days before we became a disposable society. Now we see single-use low-density polyethylene plastic bags cluttering the landscape snagged on fences and trees everywhere. First introduced to the US in 1977, by 2012 90% of all groceries were bagged in plastic per the Associated Press. The Sierra Club estimates 380 billion plastic bags are used in the US every year (1,200 bags per person!) requiring 12 million barrels of oil to produce.
One January, we were chilled to the bone so we hit the road, heading south. Always aware of the environment, here are my sightings.
Our Mississippi State Park campground was absolutely beautiful but there were no recycling bins. Anti-litter signs are prevalent – “Pick It Up Mississippi” along roadways and “Adopt-A-Highway America” along the Interstates. It appears these signs are effective, as we didn’t notice much roadside litter. As for local cuisine, I wasn’t much interested in fried chicken on top of waffles, boiled peanuts, or fried pies but I was glad to see the produce stands emerge as we traveled further south. Overall, Mississippi is quite beautiful. Much of the land is sparsely populated and filled with healthy forests. While logging does occur, we didn’t notice clear-cutting scars.
While I have made a valiant attempt, it seems the more try to I avoid plastics, the more I see. I continually run into situations that seem impossible, but as always, I remain steadfast. Continue reading “Plastics Everywhere!”→
While in Italy, we took a two week excursion into Greece. Here too we found fresh produce abounded, recycling a bit less prominent, feral cats everywhere, and again the wonderful Mediterranean diet with no GMO tainted food – Greek Salads and fluffy Greek yogurt strewn with local honey were our favorites. Small family businesses covered the spectrums of our needs – restaurants, stores, hotels, and more. Diminishing our pleasure a bit, we struggled with second-hand smoke; of all the countries, Greece has the highest smokers per capita. Fortunately, inside dining was customarily smoke-free.
Microbeads are tiny pieces of spherical plastic used as scrubbing components in hundreds of personal care products including body wash, soap, toothpaste, shaving cream, anti-aging creams, and exfoliating scrubs. One single product potentially contains thousands of microbeads. When used as instructed, the product is rubbed on the skin, and then washed down the drain flowing directly into our water sources. Being smaller than one millimeter in size, microbeads easily slip through most water treatment systems. Once in our marine environment, they accumulate quickly as they are impossible to remove and are not biodegradable. They join the toxic plastic soup ever present and growing in our waterways.
These microbeads readily enter the food chain as they are tiny and look like food. Once eaten, they quickly pass on to larger fish and wildlife making their way to the top of the food chain – humans. As though eating plastic isn’t bad enough, those plastic beads are magnets for accumulate toxic chemicals already in the water, chemicals linked to a broad range of ailments ranging from birth defects to cancer.
Why would industry create such an environmental menace? Plastic is Cheap. How to avoid? Sometimes “Microbeads” is listed on the front label, otherwise read the ingredients. Polyethylene (PE), and polypropylene (PP) are the plastics of choice. While some products now boast “biodegradable plastics”, that is not a good alternative. Plastic need high heat and light to biodegrade, conditions not present in a lake or ocean. Many charts list microbead-containing products to avoid. Fortunately, there are many healthier alternatives available so watch for ingredients like oatmeal, ground nut shells, salt crystals, rice, apricot seeds, cocoa beans, and bamboo.
Many entities are passing legislation phasing out and/or banning microbeads. Many European countries, Illinois and Michigan attempting to protect the Great Lakes, California, Vermont, and New York have all taken action. Personal care product companies are also stating their commitment to phase out microbeads including Unilever, The Body Shop, L’Oreal, Colgate-Palmolive and more. While Johnson & Johnson was initially the leader in this movement, recent findings indicate they found a loop hole and are replacing plastics with plastics.
While avoiding microbeads is a great start, fact remains, personal body care products are filled with harmful chemicals, further damaging our waterways and bodies. A simple Google search will help you identify those unsafe chemicals, but given their prevalence avoiding them is a challenge. Fortunately, we have a wide range of 100% natural skin care products available locally at Celestial Body, 221 Main St.
In the early 1960s high-density polyethylene was introduced making plastic bottles inexpensive to produce. By the early 1970s the food industry replaced glass with plastic – lighter & cheaper. In the mid 70s, beverage containers became the fastest growing component of solid waste. Reusable beverage containers required extra labor and valuable space so grocery stores welcomed disposables. A private-to-social cost shift occurred. Instead of the industry, now the consumer, municipal refuse collection and environment dealt with the waste. Although deposit laws reduce litter & beverage container consumption, save energy, increase jobs and stabilize prices, they are difficult to pass and keep due to beverage and retail industries lobby efforts. While Columbia, MO had a deposit law in place 1982-2002, the industry finally succeeded in repealing the law after 5 attempts.
The Pacific Institute reports in 2006, “producing the bottles for American consumption required the equivalent of more than 17 million barrels of oil, not including the energy for transportation; Bottling water produced more than 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide; It took 3 liters of water to produce 1 liter of bottled water”. Widely quoted – the US consumes over 50 billion single serve bottles of water a year – 95,000 per minute! If an ambitious 23% of those are recycled, still over 38 billion bottles end up in the landfill or litter our streets, parks and waterways. Once in the landfills, they slowly release toxic chemicals that leak into our water system. Bottom line – Plastic is a non-renewable resource, it is energy and resource intensive to produce, highly toxic and takes 700+ years to biodegrade.
These disposables keep growing and growing. Among other swirling pools, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is now roughly the size of Texas with churning plastic bottles, plastic bags and Styrofoam. These growing piles of plastic garbage have a devastating effect on sea life, threaten our wildlife and natural areas, and make our world less beautiful and healthy.
As though that isn’t enough – The Sierra Club reports the bottled water industry led by Nestle’, Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola are aggressively taping natural springs and aquifers, which can lead to depletion in wetlands, lakes and wells. 40% of bottled water usually comes from municipal tap water such as Coke’s Dasani and Pepsi’s Aquafina brands. They are commoditizing our access to safe and affordable water.
The marketers of bottled water have convinced the public that their water is cleaner, tastier and healthier than tap water. It’s no wonder they are pursuing groundwater and distribution rights wherever they can. They are making a fortune! Consumers are willing to pay 1000-5000 times more for the privilege of drinking bottled water instead of tap water.
Is bottled water healthier? Water is most frequently bottled in #1 PET or PETE bottles (polyethylene terephthalate). Experts say those bottles shouldn’t be re-used since they may leach DEHP, a probable human carcinogen. Bottled water is regulated by the FDA which has lower standards and inspects less frequently than the EPA regulations for tap water. And the FDA doesn’t test any waters packaged and sold within a single state – 60-70% of all bottled water.
Sound overwhelming?? Remember – we are the consumers so we have some say!
Don’t buy single-use disposable water bottles!! When home, use glass to avoid all possible plastic chemicals. For water on the go, use stainless steel or a PBA free water bottles.
Filtered water – Use a filter pitcher, install a faucet-filter, or buy a bottle with a built-in filter to remove trace chemicals and bacteria. Under the sink osmosis filters are effective and convenient.
Entertaining – Get out the water jug! Purchase a stash of reusable plastic glasses (safest plastics are marked on the bottom 2, 4, or 5) from thrift stores or #1 plastic cups that can be recycled. Also use eco-friendly plant starch cutlery and biodegradable paper plates.
Recycle – Products made from recycled plastics are endless – Deck Lumber, park benches, fabric, clothes, carpet, and recycled art. Plastic bridges are being built throughout the US. Peeblesshire, Scotland has a 30 meter long bridge made entirely out of waste plastic products.
Join the Sierra Club and other organizations that fight for environmental causes & make your Votes count.
Pick up litter – Recycle what is fairly clean.
Good News – The Grand Canyon has banned the sale of single-use plastic water bottles due to the threat to wildlife and to reduce waste. Other National Parks are installing water filling stations so visitors can fill their water bottles. Concord, Massachusetts recently banned single-use beverage bottles and Chicago instituted a 5 cent tax per bottle.
Progress is being made – Be a part of that change! Speak up; spend your dollars wisely.