If you have visited one of our Athens County libraries this past week, you may have noticed the project Athens ReThink Plastics has put together with the Ohio Sierra Club: Plastic Free July. The colorful July calendars on display are yours for the taking with many helpful suggestions how all of us can cut down on plastic consumption. We encourage you to take on this challenge — fill out a commitment form, then drop it in our raffle box. At the end of the month we will draw a name at each of our seven county public libraries. We are grateful for all our local businesses who donated prizes. It was validating to hear employees and business owners enthused about what we are doing, and sharing their own concerns.

Included in this collaboration with the libraries is a reusable bag give away. Between collecting, cleaning and sewing these upcycled feed sacks, our 450 bags took about 300 work hours! A huge shout out to those volunteers who sewed and will continue to sew, helping us ensure that any Athens County citizen who would like to dramatically decrease the use of Single-Use Plastic Bags (SUPB) have access to reusable bags at no cost.

By now, you may be wondering, “Who the heck is Athens Rethink Plastics anyway?

Athens ReThink Plastics is a group of individuals concerned about the adverse health and environmental impacts of the production, consumption and discarding of plastic products.

We are focused on finding solutions to the plastics crisis through education, action steps, and collaboration with community members, business owners and policy-makers.

You may be thinking “A crisis, really?” In comparison with COVID 19 this may seem too minute an issue to even think about. Yes, indeed microplastics (<5mm in size) are very small, but they are everywhere! They have been found in air, oceans, fresh waters, soil, human stool, and now placental tissue.

While the human impact is yet to be defined, we do know that plastics contain known carcinogens as well as endocrine disruptors. We know that plastics are wreaking havoc on marine life. You’ve probably seen that photo of a straw (that was probably sucked on for a mere three minutes) stuck in a turtle’s nose, for who knows how long?

We cannot recycle our way out of the plastic pollution crisis. Nor can we depend on our state legislators to side with the well-being of people over the interest of the powerful plastic lobbyists. Gov. DeWine just signed the state budget. It includes the language for HB 242, which will make it harder for municipalities to effectively address the proliferation of SUPB.

Of more critical concern, the plastic industry is currently luring companies to come to Ohio to “turn the rust belt into the Plastic Belt.” We have seen the tragic impact these extraction industries have along the Mississippi River in Louisiana dubbed Cancer Alley, which locals now call Death Alley. We do not need a petrochemical hub spewing more pollution in our air and water! There is good news, however. At the federal level the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act (BFFPPA) has been introduced calling for comprehensive action to address the root cause of plastic pollution. We owe it to the next generation to do better. Don’t forget to check us out at your local library. If you can do just one thing, one step, you are headed in the right direction.

(Editor’s Note: This column was co-signed by Cindy Birt, Elissa Yoder-Mann, Lee Gregg, Megan Almeida, Melanie Moynan-Smith, Milena Miller and Nancy Pierce.)

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