We Need To Face Our Other Global Environmental Catastrophe: Plastic Pollution

We Need To Face Our Other Global Environmental Catastrophe: Plastic Pollution


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Janet Ybarra
Former Washington Journalist
Contributor on The Bipartisan Press

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Based on our national political dialogue, it would seem as though climate change is the single global environmental catastrophe that we have to face.

And climate change is certainly without doubt an existential threat to the human race.

But it’s not the only one we face. The other is plastic pollution. It’s not only the jars and other food containers we use, but other plastic items of our day-to-day life: toothbrushes, sandals and even synthetic fibers of clothing.

Much of this detritus finds itself on the world’s oceans and clogs the beaches of some of the planet’s most isolated–and beautiful–islands.

A scientific study released earlier this year found a boggling 414 million pieces of plastic just on some remote Australian islands.

And tiny bits of plastic–“microplastics”–are finding their way into food sources and living beings. Scientists aren’t sure what the health effects are yet.

So what is the answer to all this? It’s more complex than you might first think. Yes, of course by now, we all are on the recycling bandwagon. But not all plastic can be recycled.

Here are some tips published by Columbia University:

Be a conscientious consumer when you shop

  • Clothing: The largest proportion of microplastics in the ocean, 35 percent, comes from synthetic textiles. When you wash clothing made from polyester, acrylic, lycra, spandex, fleece or nylon, between 600,000 and 17.7 million microfibers per wash come loose and end up in the wastewater. Because they are so tiny, water purification filters can’t trap them, so they end up in the food chain. Opt for clothing made of cotton, hemp, wool and other natural fibers instead, and buy used items whenever possible.
  • Packaging: Choose products packaged in natural materials such as bamboo, corn-starch, potato starch, cocoa bean shells, glass, grass paper, wood, cotton, hemp, algae, lignin or mycelium (mushroom). Try to avoid products in excessive plastic packaging.
  • Personal care: Don’t buy products that contain microbeads (bits of plastic used as exfoliants). Although Congress passed the Microbead-Free Waters Act in 2015, banning the manufacture and distribution of cosmetics and toothpastes containing plastic microbeads, some of these products are still on store shelves. Beatthemicrobead.org can help you determine which products contain microbeads. And if you must buy personal care items in plastic bottles, opt for larger sizes. Better still, use bar soap instead of body wash or shower gel.
  • Food: Buy in bulk whenever possible, and when shopping, bring your own reusable containers and shopping bags. Store refrigerated produce in towels or cloth instead of plastic bags. Use glass or steel food containers for leftovers instead of plastic. Cook at home more often!

Visit the Columbia University blog for even more ways to address the problem.

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