Commentary

Put a Lid on Your Use of Plastic

By MARY WILDING | Oct 25, 2017

Since seeing the film “A Plastic Ocean” on Sept. 23,  the visual images of what is happening in our ocean continue to come to mind. I hope everyone will have an opportunity to see this powerful film because it speaks to the absolute need to reduce the use of plastics and to support all efforts on LBI and beyond to do so. Those of you with Netflix can watch it at home for just $2, I am told, and I urge you to do so. 

Plastic production in our country was estimated to be more than 300 million tons in 2015. Half of that is stuff we use once and throw away. Ocean Conservancy estimated more than 690 species of marine wildlife are affected by marine debris. An estimated 8 million metric tons of plastic waste flow from the land into the ocean every year. By 2025 there could be 1 ton of plastic for every 3 tons of fish.

This encompasses not just bags, bottles and fishing nets, but also microplastics. The problem with plastic is it doesn’t go away. It just breaks up until it is almost a micro-confetti-like mass that is ingested by sea creatures, large and small, and sea birds, along with larger pieces of trash. Thousands of these creatures die agonizing deaths. According to the film, the micro-particles of plastic, some of which carry toxins, are ingested by marine life, and that marine life is eventually consumed by us.

Many of us are trying to reduce the use of plastics, but there is so much more each one of us can do. Panelists after the film spoke of their efforts to make a difference here on LBI. Teresa Hagan has surely stepped up to the plate by advocating to eliminate balloons. Alliance for a Living Ocean has put in water refilling stations to decrease the use of plastic bottles. The Garden Club of LBI had given each member a reusable bag to use in place of plastic bags, and Long Beach Township will have a hearing on Nov. 4  and hopefully pass an ordinance to ban plastic bags. Jay Mann of The SandPaper said that evening since we live on an island full of sand, we should remember and use what is made from it: glass. All are steps in the right direction.

Certainly recycling is critical, and the 2017 Ocean County recycling directory provides all the details. In a nutshell, we have single stream recycling with just three categories: bottles, cans, paper. 

But you can also take large rigid plastics to municipal centers, and with a little effort, we each can lessen the loads to the landfills. Please remember, 80 percent of the plastic in the ocean comes from the land, so we can reduce that amount by recycling as much as possible.

But we each need to do lots more to keep the plastic out of our ocean. Realistically, we can’t eliminate plastic, but we sure can cut back on the amount we use. I suggest each one of us make a commitment to take at least one additional action to reduce our carbon footprint and then commit to doing another and another.

Did you know 30 million tons of plastic waste were generated in the U.S. in 2009, and only 7 percent was recovered for recycling? We can each decide what we are ready to do additionally to make a difference. For instance, consider these actions that I found doable:

• Stop using plastic bags in the grocery or at other stores. If you forget your reusable bag, go back and get it, and next time you will be more likely to remember. I find reusable bags in the grocery are actually more convenient because you can load them more efficiently, carry them more easily, and they work just as well in any retail establishment. The average family takes home 1,500 plastic shopping bags per year.

• Stop buying bottled water. Carry a refillable bottle. It’s so worth the effort. Seventy million bottles per day are used in the U.S., and more than 60 million go to landfills and incinerators, for a total of 22 billion per year. The cost average for tap water is $2.10 per 1,000 gallons with a filter system vs. $2.99 to $4.99 per 1 gallon of bottled water. In addition, there is the cost of 15 million barrels of oil per year to manufacture the plastic bottles plus resources to transport and dispose of them.

• Start carrying your own refillable hot beverage container. I stop for coffee pretty often and find my own container doesn’t spill on me as often as a disposable one, keeps the liquid hotter, and I get a discount for using my own container! Starbucks uses 4 billion cups per year, and most end up in a landfill because although they are paper cups, they are lined with plastic. That’s just one company. Americans throw away 25 billion Styrofoam coffee cups every year, and Styrofoam will be there 500 years from now.

• Start asking restaurants to wrap leftovers in foil instead of using a Styrofoam box, or better yet, bring your own reusable container.

• Start saving your plastic cartons with the triangles and numbers designating the type of plastic (plastic containers from yogurt, packaged dinners, spreads, salads) and give them to a relative or friend whose community does accept them for recycling. I think you will be surprised how quickly they pile up. 

• Start washing and reusing your zip-lock bags (my kids have finally stopped ragging me about this, and I saw my daughter-in-law putting a washed-out bag up to dry. As a scuba diver, she has seen the changes in the reefs and the plastic trash in the ocean). Or use glass or ceramic containers for storage.

• Start looking for products in glass containers or cardboard instead of plastic.

There are so many ways to help turn around the awful conditions in our ocean. Which additional actions are you willing to make a commitment to undertake? Being better stewards is a small price to pay for being fortunate enough to live on LBI and in the U.S.  

Mary Wilding lives in Harvey Cedars.

 

 

 

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