We know that plastic recycling isn’t working. We know that poor countries take more than half of U.S. plastic waste, and once there, it’s out of our control. It becomes mountains of plastic, and fills once beautiful, awe-inspiring coastlines and rivers.
We know that very little of what we sort and clean and put into recycling bins, as we are encouraged to understand is our duty as citizens, is actually recycled.
We are producing 380 million tons per year of this stuff, more of it all the time. We know it’s in our bodies, our food, our air, water and soil. Our oceans are microplastic soups. Plastic waste contains some 10,000 chemicals--many are unknown to us, many are toxic and most are unregulated. They cause cancer, hormone disruption, damage to the immune system, to the liver, the lungs and much more.
We know that the oil and gas industry is actively promoting increased plastic use and production to make up for lost revenue as we transition away from fossil fuels for energy, and that fracking and production of plastics from petrochemicals cause climate change.
Some of our plastic waste, with nowhere to go, is ending up stored in warehousing facilities in the U. S., like in Richmond, Indiana, where bales were piled high in 6 buildings and over 14 acres. It burned for 2 days plus, then continued to smolder. Plastics are made from fossil fuels that burn hotter and harder to extinguish than other fires. A huge thick body of poisonous black smoke flooded the working class neighborhood surrounding the site.
There are similar facilities across this country, accepting and warehousing plastic waste that has nowhere to go, and though the Richmond fire is extraordinary because of its size and severity, fires are not uncommon. Jan Dell, formerly a consultant to the oil and gas industry who now runs The Last Beach Cleanup, a non-profit fighting plastics pollution and waste, has mapped 70 such fires in several countries since 2019.
In Richmond, 2000 people were evacuated, others ordered to shelter-in-place, for 5 days. Then they come home to toxic ash and fragments contaminating everything. What happens to their lives, their children, their freedom?
Let’s start reducing this waste. Let’s start by eliminating single use plastic carryout bags.
Is it so much of a hardship for consumers to bring their own bags? Many people have them but forget them at home or in the car. A ban is a reminder. Consumers adjust quickly. Stores don’t lose business. How hard is it for us to figure out other ways to pick up pet waste and line trash cans, when compared to the crisis plastics are creating?
Most people want to reduce plastic waste.
Please bring your extra clean and dry reusable shopping bags each week to the Athens Farmers Market. There will be a marked barrel for you to deposit your extras or take one to use. We will distribute the extra bags in the community where they are most needed. Thanks to all for the 203 bags donated on Earth Day.
Nancy Pierce of Guysville is a member of Athens ReThink Plastics.
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