Climate Corner: Choose to refuse
Mar 26, 2022
Before the creation of plastics the world was totally dependent on nature for the materials needed to produce everyday items. Because these other materials; such as metals, stones, bones, horns, fangs and tusks, were not easy to obtain or process, scientists and chemists looked for alternatives. The search began for a material that was not entirely dependent on natural resources and that was strong, durable, lightweight and could be mass produced. Through the mid-1800s and early 1900s various types of synthetic polymers, later known as plastics, were developed. This was the beginning of the plastic revolution in the industrial world. As a senior citizen, I have watched this plastic revolution increase tremendously just in my own lifetime. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, two million tons of plastic were created in 1950 and by 2015, this amount had increased 200 fold.
No one can deny the fact that plastic has proven to be useful in modern lives. In the field of health care, for example, medical instruments have been improved and various medical conditions can be helped because of plastic. But two other facts no sensible person can deny is that the most heinous plastic products overwhelming the globe today are “single use” plastics and that too many of these single use plastic products have been produced too fast! Single use plastics are goods made primarily from petrochemicals which are fossil fuel based chemicals. These goods are meant to be disposed of right after use, sometimes within minutes. These petroleum based single use plastics are most commonly used for packaging and service ware. These items are things like plastic bags, straws, coffee stirrers, soda and water bottles and most food packaging. And the United States is one of the top contributors of this type of plastic waste globally.
The nature of petroleum based disposable plastic makes it difficult to recycle. Petroleum based plastic usually goes into a landfill where it is buried or incinerated. It is not biodegradable and will not decompose into natural substance like soil. Instead petroleum based plastic will degrade (break down) over years into tiny particles and in the process release toxic chemicals which make their way into our food and water supply. These toxic chemicals are now being found in our bloodstream and the latest research has found them to disrupt the endocrine system which can cause cancer, infertility, birth defects, impaired immunity and many other ailments. It has been well established by many studies that the entire life cycle of plastic, from production to disposal, contributes to ocean and community pollution, health issues and climate change. At this point in time, plastic pollution is everywhere from ocean floors to mountain tops and even, as noted above, inside our bodies. A “bioplastic” that is easier to degrade has been developed and is being promoted as a safer alternative. However, bioplastics are in fact just as toxic as other plastics. According to an article published in late October 2020, in the journal Environment International, “Bio-based and biodegradable plastic are not any safer than other plastics,” said the lead author, Lisa Zimmermann from Goethe University in Frankfurt.
Last year, 170 nations pledged to “significantly reduce” use of plastic by 2030. Many countries have already taken nation wide action on plastic pollution including Canada, United Kingdom, European Union, China, Kenya and Zimbabwe. And earlier this month, the U.N. Environment Assembly unanimously voted to develop a treaty to end plastic pollution. This treaty mirrors the Montreal Protocol, which gradually removed ozone-depleting substances from use, and is an important first step toward reducing plastic waste. The Center for International Environmental Law, based in Washington D.C., is very involved in helping develop this new global agreement on plastics. This organization has 3 focus areas: Climate and Energy; Environmental Health; and People, Land and Resources. CIEL has funds available to provide monetary support to help front line groups stop plastics and petrochemical build out across the United States. MOVCA recently received a grant from CIEL and is looking forward to conducting our local campaign.
In the United States there is no federal legislation for limiting single-use plastics. A bill called the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act was introduced in 2020. As of March 2021, the bill was still with the Senate Finance Committee for review. It can take years for a bill like this to pass at the federal level. Until then, the responsibility for the restriction of single-use plastics falls to states, cities and counties. There are eight states that have completely banned certain forms of single-use plastics, mainly plastic bags. These include California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, New York, Oregon, and Vermont. There’s also a long list of other states that have plastic bag bans in process. If the state chooses not to regulate single-use plastics, the decisions fall to the cities and counties. This is where you find most of the plastic straw bans; cities like New York and Miami Beach have enacted their own bans on plastic straws and stirrers. There are countless cities in Florida and California with straw bans, as well as hundreds more scattered across the country including D.C.
In our local area, trying to live without single use plastic products is challenging. However, there are many resources available, including books, websites and videos, that give tips for living with less plastic and help your household minimize single use plastic in as many areas as possible. It’s important for everyone to be a conscious consumer and do our part for the good of the planet. Although it does take a little foresight and planning any one can choose to refuse single use plastic. It’s easy to decline a straw for your drink, take your own cloth reusable bags to the stores for shopping, bring containers for leftovers at restaurants and carry a small set of reusable cutlery instead of accepting plastic utensils at fast food establishments. The world can, and in fact has to, eradicate single use plastics and learn, once again, to live without them. Abandoning single use plastics and the fossil fuels necessary for their production should certainly not be considered irrational by anyone, conservative or liberal. Our transition to no single use plastics is an important solution, along with other solutions, that will help provide a livable future on our planet for both marine life and our grandchildren.
Giulia Mannarino, of Belleville, is a member of Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action.