Eliminate the Plastic Plague (5.16.17)
The following report is written by my friend and warrior for the environment Goffinet McLaren. The kids and I met Goffinet through SCUTE (South Carolina United Turtle Enthusiasts) and volunteer with her through SODA (Stop Offshore Drilling in the Atlantic). Educate yourself and make a difference for our environment. ~ Mommy Moo Moo
The Plastic Plague
by Goffinet McLaren*
This article represents some of my personal concerns about the devastating impact of plastic on our Planet. It derives from multiple sources including the aspirational views of environmental lawyers Polly Higgins and Dr. Mary Christina Wood. I have also included suggestions for how we can collectively help solve the plastic plague.
Many people understand that plastic pollution is a plague to our planet. If you are not aware of this plague, which is especially threatening to our oceans, let’s understand the threat so that we can work on reducing our personal plastic footprint. Until recently, lack of knowledge about plastic has been a major problem, but now that the facts are available, we can all learn about the severity of this issue. In turn, we can then help educate others, and most importantly, our children. And we must also listen to our children.
First is an outline of the magnitude of the problem – let’s look at the amount of plastic that is produced and then discarded every year. Plastic does not biodegrade like wood, or food, so every piece of plastic ever produced is still somewhere on our planet, including in our oceans. And we are continuing to add to this plastic deluge every year.
The U.S. uses 100 billion plastic shopping bags per year According to the Wall Street Journal.1
100 billion shopping bags equates to one million bags per minute. 2
An estimated 12 million barrels of oil is required to make that many plastic bags. 3
Plastic bags are made of polyethelene which is a petroleum product. Production contributes to air pollution and energy consumption.
Plastic bags never bio degrade; they are used for a few minutes but last a life time; they are cheap to produce but expensive to clean from the environment; they embody the message of our throw-away society, and future generations will suffer the consequences from today’s over indulgence.4
8 million tons of plastic are thrown away or abandoned on our beaches each year only to be washed out to sea.5
Plastic now pollutes every corner of the Earth. 6
Plastic Waste in the United States of America:
Plastic bags: 100 billion per year.7
Plastic bottles: 50 billion per year, which is 136 million per day.8 This consumes 17 million barrels of oil.9
Plastic straws: 500 million per day in U.S. alone.10
Styrofoam cups: 25 billion coffee cups per year which is 2.8 million coffee cups per hour.11
Plastic Nurdles: Plastic nurdles are the basic component from which plastic products are manufactured. They are about the size of a lentil and we use about 60 billion pounds per year. Millions of nurdles are lost during transportation and ultimately find their way into the ocean.12
Micro beads: micro beads are minute abrasives, used in toothpaste, body scrubs, and other cosmetic products. 800 trillion micro beads go down our drains every day.13
Flip Flops: Create approximately 90 tons of plastic per year. 14
Synthetic fibers: According to Advance Fiber Technologies, synthetic fibers are one of the miracles of modern science, but they are also a modern nightmare. “Products, such as polar fleece keep us warm and cozy. They are quite easily cleaned, but every miracle comes with a price.”15
Did you know that every time we wash a fleece pullover, or jacket, we’re sending millions of plastic microfibers out into our drainage systems?16 Since our present day washing machines do not have the capability of catching these extremely small fibers, they ultimately flow into the ocean, where they are ingested by fish.17
Vehicle tires also contribute enormous amounts of debris to our oceans. It is estimated at 270 tons per year.18
Trillions of pieces of plastic are either floating on top of the water, or are deeper in the water column, or have already dropped to the ocean floor. All of these plastic particles are being ingested by the various species of marine life.
It is estimated that 25 percent of fish have plastic in their tissue and we will have more plastic than fish in our oceans by 2050!19
Let’s think next about why people choose to overlook the problems associated with plastic. Then we will look at how the plastic industry plays with the truth, and finally we look at three possible solutions for the future, as well as what we can do today.
Why do people not understand, or choose to ignore, the gravity of this plastic pollution problem?
It is all around us.
It is ubiquitous in our modern day lives and it is seen everywhere. We have become immune to the sight and dangers of plastic.
We see people (who should know better) using it, therefore we assume that it must be okay.
We see plastic bottles on television, on sports fields, on tennis courts, in governmental offices. We see government officials walking around with plastic bottles during television media interviews, and countless other places—even at environmentally focused events.
We see plastic and styrofoam being used in doctor’s offices, hospitals, and therapy clinics because it is convenient.
We see government officials walking around with styrofoam coffee cups.
Subliminally, we absorb the message that it is okay to use plastic.
Some of the Problems created by Plastic
U.S. society is only beginning to fully appreciate the plastic burden that has been “dropped on it.” As Rolf Halden from Arizona University states, “We are doomed to live with yesterday’s plastic pollution and we are exacerbating the situation each day we do not change our behavior.”20
Plastic is a danger to wildlife – plastic chokes and kills millions of creatures every year.
Plastic is a cost to taxpayers for clean-ups – in South Carolina, the Horry County landfill estimates that they spend $100,000 per year cleaning up plastic bags from their landfill and fixing clogged machinery.21
Plastic is a cost to volunteers for clean-ups – volunteers spend countless hours cleaning rivers and beaches – time that could be spent in a more agreeable fashion.
Plastic has a detrimental impact on tourism since people will avoid visiting an area that is strewn with plastic litter. Vacationers will relate a littered beach to having poor quality ocean waters and will therefore avoid it.22
According to Dr. Kayleigh Wyles at Surrey University, plastic litter has negative psychological effects on people – unsightly litter undermines any psychological benefits that would have come with visiting a pristine beach or other spots of beauty.23
Plastic spoils the beautiful areas that are perceived to be “relaxing” in the sense of relieving stress.
We have very negative emotions when we see our environment covered with litter.
Plastic pollution has an impact on human health and well-being by making people feel sad and depressed. Unsightly litter can even raise people’s blood pressure!24
Plastic pollution also has a huge cost to human’s physical health. The manufacturing of plastic products can release a number of toxic chemicals. These toxins include carcinogenic, neurotoxic as well as hormone disrupters such as BPA and phthalates which are easily absorbed by humans.25
BPA has been recognized since the 1940’s as an endocrine disrupting chemical that interferes with normal hormonal function.26
Phthalates are a group of chemicals used to soften and increase the pliability of plastic. Phthalates are used in hundreds of products such as baby bottles, sippy cups, and cosmetics including hairspray, shampoo, and skin moisturizers.
Nursing mothers and babies are most vulnerable to both BPA and phthalates.27
Humans are not the only ones absorbing these contaminants. Fish are ingesting both BPA and phthalates from the plastic pieces in the oceans, and it is well established that these contaminants have entered the human food chain.28 Remembering that these plastics originate from petroleum, it is not surprising that eating fish, whose tissues contain plastic, might present human health risks, such as phthalate damage to the liver, kidneys, and lungs.
Plastic has been discovered in oysters which are now producing fewer and smaller egg cells, and fewer, slower-growing offspring.29 We can reasonably speculate that other sea foods such as clams and scallops are also absorbing these plastic chemicals.
We are ingesting our own plastic pollution.
While the plastic industry makes huge profits, it sows seeds of doubt about the problems with plastic and instead brainwashes the government and the public with “green-washing” and “alternative” facts.
For example, one major source of plastic litter is soft-drink companies such as Coca-Cola. For a trivial monetary contribution, Coca-Cola will “sponsor” a local beach clean-up day, where dozens, or hundreds, of well-meaning volunteers spend most of their day picking up litter from the beach – much of which will be the empty Coke bottles and caps. Essentially, the volunteers are cleaning up Coke’s litter at almost zero cost to the company. Then the company takes credit for cleaning up what is, in fact, their own litter.
Following are some examples of the “alternative facts” that the plastic industry foists upon us:
Cost: The plastic industry promotes that “plastic is cheaper than paper.”30 This is a false claim. The industry does not include the full life-cycle costs of plastic which starts with the production of oil, that many times has lead to billion dollar environmental disasters. It ignores the environmental costs on humans, marine and animal life, as well as the aesthetic degradation of our habitat. And it ignores the eventual disposal costs for the plastic litter.
In contrast, paper is harvested from trees. Trees can be replanted to create more paper. Trees absorb CO2 to help keep our environment clean and paper products are biodegradable. In addition, paper goods will not hurt animals or release toxic chemicals.
Jobs: The plastic industry claims that if plastic bags are banned, people will lose jobs.31 But they ignore the fact that new jobs will be created to manufacture and distribute reusable bags.
Cleanliness: The plastic industry claims that plastic bags are more hygienic than reusable bags.32 But reusable bags can be washed and cared for just like clothing. Evidence does not exist of any history of disease epidemics due to using reusable bags 50 years ago, before plastic was invented, as a result of contaminated shopping bags!
Underprivileged People: The plastic industry has claimed that underprivileged people will be penalized without the provision of “free” plastic shopping bags.33 On the contrary, many supermarkets today provide a cash credit at check-out for each reusable shopping bag provided by the shopper.
In short, the plastic bag industry will stop at nothing to disparage alternate shopping bag choices.
Be the Change: SOLUTIONS!
Today there are three major efforts underway to address environmental issues including the Plastic Plague.
1. UNEP Clean Oceans Campaign
The United Nations Environment Program has recently launched it’s Clean Oceans Campaign to end marine litter, to eliminate the use of micro plastics in cosmetics, and to greatly reduce the excessive, wasteful use of single-use plastic by the year 2022.34
The Clean Oceans Campaign is urging governments to pass plastic reduction policies, challenging industries to minimize plastic packaging, and calling on consumers to change their throw-away habits, before irreversible damage is inflicted in the seas.
In 2011, the UNEP minister claimed that, “There is simply zero justification for manufacturing them anymore, anywhere.”35
In 2016, Erik Solheim, Head of the UN Environmental Program said, “It is past time that we tackle the plastic problem that blights our oceans. We have stood by too long as this problem has gotten worse.”36
British barrister Polly Higgins describes Ecocide as “Harm to the Earth.” She is actively working to add this crime of Ecocide to Crimes Against Humanity, as defined under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.37
Ecocide Law incorporates the principle that companies have an ethical and moral responsibility for their actions, including how their actions or products affect the environment in all parts of the world. It is anticipated that the new Ecocide law will be effective before 2022.38
To change the current rules of the game in which government has provided too much authority to corporations, Higgins advocates a new crime of Ecocide to prevent the extensive damage, destruction or loss of ecosystems. There are already four international Crimes Against Humanity and now a 5th Crime Against Humanity is ready to be put in place.39
3. The Public Trust Doctrine
The Public Trust Doctrine is a principle that was established in English Law centuries before the Magna Carta, and in 1892 it was incorporated into the U.S. Common Law. The Doctrine imposes on our government the responsibility to take care of our country’s natural resources for present and future generations. Those resources specifically include the air, water and land, as well as marine life and the minerals contained in the land.40
It is the foundation of all laws.
In the 1970’s there was much optimism about protecting the environment and the newly appointed agencies (listed below) whose roles are to provide a balance with the industrial world.
But today, huge industries and their corporate lobbyists, such as the American Petroleum Institute (API), the American Chemical Council (ACC), Koch Industries and many others have infiltrated and politicized our natural resource protections, to the detriment of the planet.41
As lawyer Dr. Christina Wood states, “The governmental agencies have actually permitted unfettered destruction of our natural resources and now often serve the wants of their industrial sponsors, instead of the safety of the public. We are in a very dangerous situation. Today the balance has evaporated and if the balance is not reset, the corporations and its agencies will determine the future of our children.”42
Dr. Wood goes on to point out, “It is TRANSFORMATION time and at the heart of the transformation is the Public Trust Doctrine. She adds that citizens hold inalienable environmental rights to ensure that habitual living conditions support future generations and the health of the next generation is at stake.
In 2011, Our Children’s Trust was established to provide kids with a vehicle to sue the government and fossil fuel industries for their failure to act in protecting our planet, and our children, against man-made Climate Change.
The rights of our children to grow up on a habitable planet, free of the impact of human induced Climate Change, include the right to grow up with oceans free of human induced plastic pollution.
At this time a number of law suits are proceeding through the Federal court system, demanding that the government fulfill its obligations to protect our environment against immoral actions of giant industrial corporations.
Perhaps a total moral conversion of corporations and industry is required to resolve both the issues of Climate Change and plastic pollution.
And we, as concerned citizens, must be guided by our own moral principles to do the right thing for our future generations by supporting those who are trying to make a difference.
If we do nothing, we lose everything. -Anonymous
Global Action Steps
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If we do nothing, we lose everything.
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1 “Plastic Bag Facts” Wall Street Journal http://www.rensselaercounty.org/environment
2 “Plastic Bag Facts” Wall Street Journal http://www.rensselaercounty.org/environment
3 “Plastic Bag Facts” Wall Street Journal http://www.rensselaercounty.org/environment
5 “Eight Million Tonnes of Plastic Dumped in Ocean Every year” Laura Parker, National Geographic. Feb 13, 2015
6 Robin McKie, Science Editor, www.theguardian.com 23 Jan. 2016
7 Plastic Bag Facts” Wall Street Journal http://www .rensselaercounty.org/environment
15 http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2017/02/06/511843443/are-we-eating-our-fleece-jackets-microfibers-are-migrating-into-field-and-food Chelsea Rochman 6 Feb. 2017
21 Waste Management for Horry County
22 Dr. Kayleigh Wyles, Surrey University: www.ecehh.org/people/skill/environmental-psychology
23 Dr. Kayleigh Wyles, Surrey University: www.ecehh.org/people/skill/environmental-psychology
24 Personal Experience
28 http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/health/case_studies/plastics.html; www.huffingtonpost.com/lisa-kaas-boyle/plastic-is-food-poisoning_b_5219189.html
29 Carl Safina, “More plastic, Fewer Oysters?” The Safina Center in Ocean Views, 23 Feb. 2016
30 Kitt Doncette, “The Plastic Wars.” Rolling Stone http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/the-plastic-bag-wars…
31 Kitt Doncette, “The Plastic Wars.” Rolling Stone. http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/the-plastic-bag-wars-20110725?page=1
32 Kitt Doncette, “The Plastic Wars.” Rolling Stone. http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/the-plastic-bag-wars-20110725?page=1
33 Kitt Doncette, “The Plastic Wars.” Rolling Stone. http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/the-plastic-bag-wars-20110725?page=1
34 UNEP Clean Oceans Campaign, http://web.unep.org/newscentre/un-declares-war-ocean-plastic
35 Kitt Doncette, “The Plastic Wars.” Rolling Stone. http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/the-plastic-bag-wars-20110725?page=1
36 Kitt Doncette, “The Plastic Wars.” Rolling Stone. http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/the-plastic-bag-wars-20110725?page=1
37 Polly Higgins, Lawyer for the Earth. http://science.time.com/2011/10/24/is-ecocide-a-crime/
38Polly Higgins,/ International Criminal Court, “Eradicating Ecocide?” www.eradicating ecocide.com/polly
39 Polly Higgins, “Ecocide: The Fifth Crime Against Peace?” www.ucl.ac.uk.news/news-articles/1101/11012501
40 Peter Neill, “Our Children’s Trust and The Public Trust Doctrine”, the Huffington Post, April 19, 2016; http://www.resilience.org/stories/2014-02-12/mary-wood-s-crusade-to-reinvigorate-the-public-trust-doctrine/
* This report was edited by Mommy Moo Moo
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