Last night, I was given a large, ocean-blue glass marble by an adorable 8-year-old girl and her wide-eyed 5-year-old brother. The significance of the gift was to take the information that was being discussed in their home — about plastic pollution — and pass the facts on to others, even by giving the marble away.
A group of about twenty scientists, artists, environmentalists, and concerned philanthropists was invited to a dinner by the Plastic Pollution Coalition. I have recycled for more than a decade, carry my cloth bags to shop, refuse packaging whenever I can, and consider my birth city of San Francisco the most progressive place because it was the first city in the United States to ban the use of plastic bags. But, what I learned last night made me feel a bit like WalMart. Scientists know and share the facts, but corporations and individuals do not make shifts in the use of plastics because of convenience.
I will cite a few facts and suggest a few solutions, knowing that we all want the oceans, the earth, and our own bodies to be free of this substance:
1. Plastic is not biodegradable. It is made from petroleum and the earth cannot digest it.
2. Plastic breaks down into smaller and smaller particles that absorb toxic chemicals and are consumed by wildlife and enter our food chain to poison us.
3. Harmful chemicals leached by plastics are present in our tissues and our blood.
4. Recycling is not a sustainable solution because our plastic waste is in landfills, downcycled, or exported to other countries where it does not break down.
5. There are at least four oceanic Garbage Patches — miles of plastic fragments carrying PCBs, DDT and other toxins. The largest of these garbage swills is known as the Pacific Gyre, or The Great Garbage Patch.
To rethink single use plastics is the greatest solution. Refusing to use disposable cups, bottles, plastic ware, bags, etc will empower us and bring awareness to retailers and corporations so the pollution can stop. Every five minutes, Americans throw away enough plastic drinking water bottles to cover eight football stadiums. Every five minutes. And those bottles live for five hundred years.
The Plastic Pollution Coalition calls this issue “Humanity’s Next Challenge.” I agree.
When I returned home last night, I placed my ocean-blue marble on my bathroom counter. Each time I see it, I am reminded to change my own habits even more and to work with this group to stop the over-packaging of products and over use of plastic in the world.