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"Plastic Problems and Solutions" by Hazel Arden, Student

In 1907,  Leo Baekeland created the first synthetic plastic our planet was never  the same again( Knight).  Today the oceans that were once plastic free, are filled with plastic particles, even in the most remote places, plastic can still be found in abundance (Goldstein). They are harmful to the environment, and especially to marine wildlife (Annual Reviews vol. 42). Humans, mostly Americans, have built their lives around one-time-use plastics: coffee cups, plastic bags, straws, and the list goes on.  Plastics  aren’t worth building your life around. From  my own experience going three weeks zero waste, and the insights of a fellow conscious consumer, I learned that it is  hard, but doable to live without plastic.

Whether we want to believe it or not, what we do affects other creatures on our planet. It is estimated that one million birds and 100,000 marine mammals die each year from plastic that we create (Plastic Statistics). The plastics that enter the oceans are photodegradable. This means that the plastic decomposes when it comes in contact with sunlight. When plastic photodegrades it breaks into little pieces. These plastic pieces are small but deadly. Each year 12,000 to 24,000 tons of plastic are ingested by fish in the North Pacific, sea turtles mistake plastic for food, and it is estimated that 6o% of all seabirds have ingested plastic (Ocean Plastics Pollution). The ingested plastics can cause intestinal injury or death (Ocean Plastics Pollution).

The majority of  the plastic that we create ends up in the ocean. We are directly harming our marine life. We can change how we impact the earth. Though it may seem impossible there are ways to live without plastic. One doesn’t have to completely change how they live. Small acts of consciousness can make a huge difference. I interviewed Nikyta Palmisani; she is the Training, Education and Outreach Coordinator for the Lopez Island dump. When I asked Nikyta how she thought people could make a difference. Her responses were very practical, and offered easy ways to be more conscious of how one lives with plastics.  She suggested that for starters, think about what you consume, and where it goes when you are done with it. Then you can start to make changes. Bring your own coffee cup (2.5 billion cups are thrown away yearly in the UK). Shop in bulk to reduce packaging, I shopped only bulk for three weeks and found lots of new interesting recipes and goodies to cook. Buy high quality products that will last longer. Set up your car with a No Trash kit, this can contain bags, a coffee cup, or whatever else you might  need on a daily basis out in the world. As you can see it is not necessary to make drastic changes to make a difference.

My own experience, going three weeks zero waste, has shown me that our world has been taken over by plastics. We build our lives around a  synthetic substance that poisons our planet and harms our wildlife. I am lucky that I can afford to buy healthy food, that is not wrapped in plastic. Unfortunately the underprivileged folk are forced to eat unhealthy food that is heavily packaged. In the book Nickel and Dimed Barbara Ehrenreich often ate a bag of potato chips for lunch, or she ate at a fast food restaurant. The cheaper the food the more packaging it tends to have. In 2017 I traveled to Nicaragua, a South American country, struggling its way out of poverty. I was shocked by the trash lined streets and the ditches filled with plastic. It struck me then, that when people don’t have access to the necessities of life ( water, food, shelter), trash and pollution aren’t even on their minds.

I believe that humans can change, we can make a difference. The next time you go shopping, stop and think about what you buy. Think of the marine life eating plastic every day. Think of the hundreds of birds that die because their stomachs are full of plastic. Think of our beautiful planet and ask, how can I make a difference. The next time you see a potato chip bag on the side of the road, understand that there is a good chance the one who left it there is trying to survive. Understand that for you stopping and picking it up isn’t going to make or break your life or career.


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