Did you know May 29 was International Plastic Free Day? Perfect timing, right at the beginning of summer picnics, BBQs and clambakes to pledge living “plastic free.”
Looking back, I remember many a picnic with zero plastic. You could walk the beach and never find a single-use plastic bag. Not invented! Not until 1965, in Sweden. I was in high school. Just think, no sea turtles had ingested any plastic bags, mistaking them for their favorite food (jellyfish), when I was a kid beachcoming.
International Plastic Free Day
I always add Plastic Free Day to my annual family calendar – a year’s worth of photos which I cobble together and mail at Christmas to my young nieces and nephews. They love sea turtles.
The international day is a call to action by Free the Ocean – can we live plastic free for one day? Founded in 2019 by Oregon writer Mimi Austland, her idea was to offer a daily online trivia game – each time it’s played, one piece of plastic litter is removed from the ocean. Learn something, clean our oceans. It’s a popular website. All ad revenue supports Sustainable Coastline Hawaii’s beach clean-ups.
Plastic Free July Challenge
Then I noticed, hey, there’s a month-long challenge: Plastic Free July. Well, great! The more plastic-free days the better. This one started in Australia in 2011, and has grown to great success: 326 million participants globally in 2020 (www.plasticfreejuly.org). Originator Rebecca Prince-Ruiz then started The Plastic Free Foundation, saying “to create a world without plastic waste, we need to turn off the tap, not mop the floor.”
“We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly; we need millions of people doing zero waste imperfectly.” That’s @ZeroWasteChef, also known as Judith Enk, founder of Beyond Plastics and Bennington professor.
I’m with her. Go plastic-free imperfectly. What got me started was remembering clean oceans and beaches, thriving sea life. Just take the pledge, see what you can do, start small. Choose glass over plastic. Bring your own utensils. Do beach clean ups.
System shifts are happening, according to Cory Connors of Sustainable Packaging Podcast, like more stores adopting drop-off recycling centers and communities expanding recycling for soft plastics and textiles.
People Are Taking Action, Pushing for Change
The facts are sobering, and motivating. It’s hard to grasp that millions of tons of plastic are produced yearly (380 million). Half is single use, and only 9 percent gets recycled. Where does it go? Polluting our communities, our oceans, us. Remember those sea turtles? Greenpeace reports that half of all sea turtles have ingested plastic, and warns they could become extinct.
Surfrider, Ocean Conservancy, Greenpeace and many other groups are advocating for plastic bans. It’s worth joining their efforts. They are making progress.
Here’s a roundup:
Across Europe are plastic bans. The EU has banned plastic waste exports, pressured by Rethink Plastic and Break Free From Plastic. In France, disposable plates, cups and utensils are banned from restaurants (mostly fast-food), championed by Surfrider and No Plastic In My Sea.
Countries have banned plastic bags. Rwanda was the first to do so in 2000, and it’s now the world’s first plastic-free nation. Single-use bags are banned in St. Kitts and Nevis, the United Kingdom, Kenya, and Bangladesh.
Canada’s ban includes no manufacturing, importing or exporting single-use plastic bags, cutlery, straws, takeout containers, stir sticks, and carrier rings. Their federal health minister credits the Canadian people, saying they were sick of seeing plastic garbage and wanted their government to do something.
Australia is doing something. They reduced beach plastic litter 30 percent by initiating curbside pickup waste, and they’re planning a plastic bag ban.
Who in the US has banned single-use plastic bags? New York State for one, and seven others: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Oregon and Vermont.
Huge Win for Coastal Communities and Sea Life
With mounting pollution and clean-up costs, there is a lot to gain by banning balloon release, according to the Ocean Conservancy. Laguna Beach, Calif., banned balloons from public land and city events, to reduce both marine debris and the risk of wildfires. Balloon release is prohibited in Maryland, Virginia and Hawaii. New York and Florida are considering legislation.
California just passed a landmark plastic pollution law, shifting responsibility from consumers to companies that make use of plastic packing. It’s more comprehensive than laws in Colorado, Maine and Oregon. While it’s not perfect, the Ocean Conservancy, a main driver of the bill, applauds the effort: “It’s hard to capture how momentous this feels….The U.S. is the number-one generator of plastic waste in the world and a top contributor to the ocean plastics crisis. We can’t solve this problem without U.S. leadership, and by passing this law, California is righting the ship. This is a huge win for our ocean.”
Let’s go New York!
Former Locavore, now a Climatarian, sailor, beachcomber Mary Morgan lives in Orient with her husband Tom, naturalist and mushroom forager, early founders the local chapter Slow Food East End in 2004. Four years ago Mary co-founded a grassroots East End effort inspired by Project Drawdown dedicated to local solutions to reverse global warming.