Plastic pollution is a great threat. In 2016, the World Economic Forum (WEF) projected that, if we carry on doing what we are doing, by 2050 we might have more plastic in the ocean than fish. Now in 2018, we actually saw the ocean spit out a tremendous amount of plastic right in our county, on the sands of beautiful Cocoa Beach. Unfortunately, it seems we are on target to witness WEF’s projection concretize. What can we do differently to avoid that fate?
"The current plastics economy has significant drawbacks that are becoming more apparent by the day," WEF states in its 2017 report. We could certainly minimize the impact of plastics if the industry committed "to design better packaging, increase recycling rates and introduce new models for making better use of packaging" as the report suggests. Their goal is to transition toward a "New Plastics Economy," one that will create a "plastics system that works," a circular economy that will reduce the current "significant economic losses and severe negative externalities."
Included in the recognized severe negative externalities is the negative impact on our health and the health of the planet.
Plastics are functional, light and low cost. Because of that, "their use has increased twentyfold in the past half-century" and is expected to quadruple by 2050. If things don’t start to change now, we will be in serious trouble.
Plastics are "produced by the conversion of natural products or by the synthesis from primary chemicals generally coming from oil, natural gas or coal," according to the American Chemistry Council.
Even though plastics are "often designed to mimic the properties of natural materials," our current plastic is basically a man-made chemical soup that nature cannot process or repurpose on its own. As the WEF 2017 report indicates, there are some things that the industry can adjust and do better, but there are other things that everyone can do, too, if we just follow the 3Rs hierarchy: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.
Reduce, the most important one, encompasses rethinking how you use plastic to find alternatives to reduce the plastic waste generated; refusing single-use plastic by saying "No" to things such as plastic straws, plastic bags and plastic bottles; repairing what you have whenever possible instead of simply throwing it away.
The second R, Reuse, has the goal of extending the life of already existing products so we don’t need to use water, energy and raw material to make new ones. This means using things multiple times or repurposing them by creating new things out of what you already have. Reusing can take us a long way, but we need to be careful — some products are not built to be reused indefinitely and might pose risks.
Recycle Brevard (RecycleBrevard.org) in Rockledge offers an alternative for locals to dispose of unwanted items and obtain reusable materials. Make sure to check it out.
And as the last resort, Recycle. Contact the recycling program in your city to get a clear list of what is accepted, recycle whenever possible and support the effort by also purchasing recycled products whenever available.
We need to start thinking beyond the bin. Trash doesn’t disappear just because we placed it in a bin. It doesn’t go away; it just changes place. To care for where we live, our oceans, our planet, we need to make sure that we focus on reducing and do our best to reduce the waste we generate and the pollution that ensues.
Nature is resilient, but we need to stop abusing it. To survive, we need the fish not the plastic. We must find ways to live in harmony with nature because we need nature and nature needs us. But, as Jane Goodall perfectly puts it, "we can't live in harmony with nature while we're still destroying it."
Email Marcia Booth at Marcia@3RsAndBeyond.org.