The Problem with Plastic … Is Plastic
Jim Hightower / The Joplin Globe & The SierraRise Team / The Sierra Club
(January 22, 2021) — What do your toothbrush, a fish dinner and your running shoes have in common?
For roughly 4,499,999,900 years since our planet was formed, plastic was not a presence on Earth, much less a problem. But in the past few decades, this manmade petroleum polymer has become a dominant element in nature. We now live on Planet Plastic, and it’s definitely a problem.
Billions of tons of waste from everyday products made of these chemical contaminants are strewn literally everywhere — from the highest mountaintops to the deepest sea beds, in dense tropical jungles and all across barren deserts. It’s estimated, for example, that in less than 30 years, the gross volume of plastic in our oceans will exceed that of fish.
From ubiquitous carryout bags and shower curtains to almost-invisible microplastics, the vast tonnage of this trash increases every minute and has an afterlife lasting centuries, wreaking havoc on ecosystems; destroying species; and infusing our water, air, soil, food — and us.
Consider just three products trashing our earthly nest:
• Toothbrushes: Until the 1930s, these were made of such degradable components as wood. Since then, practically all have been throwaway plastic brushes. But there is no “away,” so nearly all of the trillions of brushes we’ve discarded in the past century are still out there somewhere on land or in water.
• Bottles: Since the 1970s, marketers of soda, water and other drinks have jacked-up profits by switching to disposable polyethylene bottles. A million of these containers are sold every minute of every day, creating a massive trash burden dumped on governments and Mother Nature. The bottles break down into trillions of tiny pellets that kill birds and fish that mistake them for food.
• Sneakers: Every year, millions of pairs of these sports shoes are sold in the US alone, advertised as being athletic and “cool.” What’s uncool is that they’re made almost entirely of melded and molded plastics that are practically impossible to recycle. So, after a short time in our closets, sneakers spend an eternity as globs of toxic plastic trash.
We’re being suffocated by our own synthetic waste — from food containers and cigarette filters to straws and synthetic rubber tires. As the wise old saying puts it, if you find that you’ve dug yourself into a hole, the first thing to do is to quit digging. Well, I can report that governments and industries are teaming up in the US and around the world to respond forcefully to this planetary crisis. Unfortunately, their response has been to engage in a global race to make more plastic stuff.
Leading this Kafkaesque greedfest are some of our planet’s most infamous plunderers and careless polluters: ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell and other petrochemical profiteers. With fossil fuel profits crashing, the giants are rushing to convert more of their oversupply of oil into plastic. But where to send the monstrous volumes of waste that will result? Even China has recently closed its ports to new shipments of plastic trash.
So, the industry’s chief lobbying outfit, the American Chemistry Council, looked around last year and suddenly shouted, “Eureka, there’s Africa!” In particular, Kenya is their target, and an army of their lobbyists are deployed there and in Washington to transform the coastal region of this East African nation into “a plastics hub” for global trade in waste.
However, Kenyans have an influential community of environmental activists who’ve enacted some of the world’s toughest bans on plastic pollution. To bypass this inconvenient local opposition, the global Dump on Africa lobby is resorting to an old corporate power play: “free trade.”
With a sympathetic push from the Office of the US Trade Representative, the chemical lobby is trying to impose its profiteering vision on the people through an autocratic trade agreement that would ban Kenyan officials from passing their own laws or rules that interfere with trade in plastic waste.
Such callous dumping, however, is what corporate imagemakers call “bad optics,” so the dumpers are trying to hide their ugliness by creating a public relations campaign and front group with the spiffy name Alliance to End Plastic Waste. It is, of course, a fraud.
ExxonMobile and other founding members claim that their alliance is a heroic battle against plastic pollution. But — hello — they are the creators of the pollution. Also, the mountains of plastics being dumped are not “public” but industrial waste — made, promoted and sold for the private profit of the corporations.
The real problem is not plastic waste but plastic itself. From production to disposal, the product is destructive to people and the planet. Rather than subsidizing petrochemical behemoths to make more of the stuff, policymakers should seek out and encourage people who are developing real solutions and alternatives. To help stop the insanity, contact the group Beyond Plastics.
Jim Hightower is a commentator and author who served two terms as Texas agriculture commissioner.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
Urge Biden: Be a Plastic-free President
The SierraRise Team / The Sierra Club
(March 3, 2021) — Did you know that more than 99 percent of plastic is made from chemicals sourced from fossil fuels, much of which is dirty fracked gas?
Fortunately, with the stroke of a pen, President Biden and his administration can begin to clean up this mess.
Will you urge the President to take eight key actions to help stop plastic production and waste from polluting our communities? (Tip: Decision-makers care most about why this matters to you. If possible, add a brief comment before sending your message.)
We’ve all seen the plastic piling up on our beaches, floating in our rivers, or littering our communities. Potentially toxic microplastic particles have also been found in the food we eat, the water we drink, and even the air we breathe. These tiny plastics even contaminate our planet’s most pristine regions, from the bottom of the ocean to the northernmost Arctic.
And single-use waste is not the only problem of plastic. Making these items requires dirty petrochemicals to be produced, often in low-income communities and communities of color throughout the South, Midwest, and expanding into Appalachia. This exacerbates a public health crisis in communities that polluters have targeted for decades.
Fortunately, President Biden can begin to solve this crisis — but we need to speak up to urge his administration to do so. Will you join the call of over 600 leading organizations across the nation asking the president to take the following eight actions?
1. Use the purchasing power of the federal government to replace single-use plastic items with reusable products
2. Deny permits for new or expanded plastic facilities, infrastructure, and exports
3. Make corporate polluters pay and reject false solutions that burden taxpayers with cleanup
4. Advance environmental justice in petrochemical (plastic producing) corridors
5. Update federal standards to curtail pollution from plastic facilitiesStop subsidizing plastic producers
6. Join international efforts to establish binding commitments to reduce plastic production and eliminate single-use plastics
7. Reduce and mitigate the impacts of discarded and lost fishing gear
For far too long, Big Plastic has worked tirelessly to convince us, as individuals, that plastic pollution is our fault. They have peddled the faulty solution that we can recycle our way out of this crisis.
Unfortunately, according to the EPA, the US plastic recycling rate is a miniscule eight percent. More than 90 percent of plastics are buried, burned, or released into the environment. Instead, we must implement holistic solutions that include restricting plastic production, using fewer single-use items, and holding plastic manufacturers accountable for their waste and harm to nearby communities.
President Biden has committed to being a climate champion; it’s critical his administration make reducing plastic use and production a part of their plans to fight climate change and tackle environmental injustice.
ACTION: Speak up now to ensure that solving our plastic crisis is a priority for the new administration. (Don’t forget to add a short personal comment about why this issue matters to you!)
Thank you for using your voice to help fight for a cleaner, healthier future.
In it together,
The SierraRise Team