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At the Front Door: Plastic Waste is Everywhere – a column on climate change in our lives.
If you have recently walked along the Guadalupe river, you know you don’t have to go far to find plastic. Plastic waste is, literally, everywhere.
In 2019 scientists located the deepest piece of plastic on the planet: a plastic bag 36,000 feet deep in the Mariana Trench. That means, plastic waste can now be found from the deepest oceans all the way into the upper reaches of our atmosphere (via the carbon released during its production). You can even find plastic waste in space.
Recycling won’t solve this problem; it only masks it.
Cities such as San Jose have made small moves towards change – it banned single-use plastic bags in 2012. While this did result in a 70% reduction in the use of plastic bags, that does little when plastic bags are only 8% of the plastic trash found along waterways in San Jose.
Eventually, some of that plastic will end up in you.
In fact, a study found that people eat about 5 grams of plastic every week – that’s about the size of a credit card. Yum! Nor will drinking bottled water protect you; you actually will consume on average, an additional 90,000 microplastics.
Here’s a staggering fact – a total of 7 trillion pieces of microplastics end up in San Francisco Bay each year.
Most people think that there is no environmental impact as long as they recycle their water bottles and other single-use plastic. Not true. Plastic has a huge carbon footprint, which greatly outsizes its relatively short useful lifespan.
“From it’s extraction and production to it’s management as a waste product, plastic generates planet-warming emissions at every step of its life cycle,” plastic is a direct and significant contributor to climate change. Currently, the creation of plastic accounts for 4-8% or global oil consumption, and, at the rate we are going, it will account for a whopping 20% by 2050.
So what does the world do with recyclables? That really depends on the type of plastic we use.
California used to offload most of its ‘recyclables’ to China, but in 2018 China tightened the rules for the plastic it would accept. Why? Because plastic is largely garbage.
So unless you ensure that all the plastic you buy is type one or two, that plastic that you recycle will more than likely end up in the landfill, lakes and rivers, or being burned overseas.
But there are things you can do.
Voters will get a direct say on the issues of plastic pollution on Nov 8, 2022 when the California Plastic Waste Reduction Regulations Initiative is on the ballot . If it passes, this citizen-originated initiative will require that unnecessary plastic packaging is eliminated. It also will ensure that single use plastic is recyclable, refillable, reusable or compostable by 2030, support access to better recycling infrastructure, and enact a max-one-cent fee on single use plastic packaging.
Better still, are actions you can take before that vote.
Avoid using plastic altogether.
Businesses listen to their consumers, so write to your favorite products and ask them to switch to different packaging or to reduce the packaging they use. Recycle what you can, but the true solution is to change how we use plastic. The best way to do that is to hold companies and manufactures responsible for the plastics in their products, rather than holding consumers responsible.
Maine and Oregon are ahead of the game. These states have started to implement Extended Producer Responsibility (E.P.R.), a policy approach under which producers are given a significant responsibility – financial and/or physical – for the treatment or disposal of post-consumer products.
California has tried to address the problem of plastic several times in the past few years with circular economy bills, including many in the current legislative session. Reach out to your representatives and let them know that now is the time to act on these issues. Similar bills have failed in the past due to lack of support.
Plastic is ubiquitous, and so is your choice in if or how you use it.
Radhika Goel is a sophomore at Homestead High and a co-lead of the Sunnyvale Youth Climate Action Team. Her passion for aiding the world’s most critical problems is what attracted her to climate activism, where she is fighting to save her environment by advocating for climate-friendly policies in the city government and green habits at home. In 2020, she has co-organized the Sunnyvale Climate Forum and co-create videos supporting eco-friendly bills that later on passed. She is also a meditation enthusiast who loves to spread kindness and positivity whenever she can and is working on bringing a peer-support group to her school.
Erin Zimmerman is trained as a Climate Reality Leader in 2019 by the Climate Reality Project, but has been active in the environmental movement for over a decade. Erin holds a PhD in Political Science from the University of Adelaide, where she focused on environmental degradation and its impacts on country and regional stability in Asia. She is currently the Chair of the Speakers’ Bureau of the Santa Clara Chapter of the Climate Reality Project and an active member of the Legislative and Policy team.
Edited by Meera Kymal, Contributing Editor at India Currents