Written by, Vanessa Cole May 6, 2019
As I mentor our first AP Young Steward, I am compelled to insure that I learn accurate and current information about the global challenge she means to assist, while supporting her young emotions to deal with the magnitude of how real the plastic pollution crisis really is. I'm gaining the opportunity to learn far more than I had imagined and finding that once you have this information, you can't do anything but participate to help it... no one can solve this problem alone and it impacts every single one of us.
It's a fact. We've made a mess with plastic. It is in our drinking water, our food system, our bodies, our soil, annihilating our ocean ecosystems, causing mass animal extinction (the UN just released that nearly 1 million species of animals and plant life are close to extinction), contributing to climate change and social injustice... IT'S A CRISIS. BONA FIDE. And it's global.
What's blowing my mind is that there is a denial, by many, that this is a problem or that it's somehow, someone else's issue to solve. Convenience is outweighing the science and a general consensus, we're hearing, is a lack of value for learning about solutions, much less enacting or participating in them. This sounds crazy, when it's put before you in print, but I assure you the denial is real. Just recently, our own AP Young Steward was denied the opportunity to share her presentation with a group of teachers (its less than 15 minutes long), because they couldn't put value in the time it would take to listen to plastic pollution awareness and solution opportunities. We don't fault these teachers. This is a norm in our busy world. We don't want to be inconvenienced, we don't want to admit there may be a massive problem that requires our attention and we don't want to admit WE'RE ALL PART OF THE PROBLEM, because that means we have to get uncomfortable while we change something. As parents, teachers, and leaders we have the influence to guide and encourage necessary change, and I've learned, it is our responsibility to make the time to learn how. The COST OF INATTENTION AND INACTION is too great for a crisis of this magnitude. There isn't time for our kids.
As I delve into solution opportunities I wonder why so many believe plastic pollution to be a far off problem, that doesn't require all of our action. The graph above, found on Ruggles Media, Northwestern's J School shows the U.S. as a very low contributor to the plastic pollution crisis. When I looked at the chart, I thought, "Wow, that's interesting, since China is the top contributor on the chart and I've learned from our 5 Gyres training, that we've been shipping our waste there until 2016, when they enacted stricter policy on what they would receive. And now we're left wondering what to do with the stockpiling waste we are accumulating." As a mom, not a scientist, I don't think we should spend ANY TIME on who the top culprit on the graph is, unless we're seeking the root cause to stop a source through action. I think we should acknowledge this crisis knows no borders and WE ALL have a responsibility in that, whether we ship our trash off through management systems or can't process the massive amount from a receiving end.
AS A MOM, not an activist, who carried and brought two babies onto this planet and makes the commitment, EVERY SINGLE DAY to teach these growing beings to be good people, to respect and honor their mother earth and the people they share it with, my perspective is this: We're gonna have to get uncomfortable for a minute to clean up this mess for the little people we're handing it to. It's black and white, there is no gray area in this...
Exposure to plastics and associated toxins has been linked to cancers, birth defects, impaired immunity, endocrine disruption and other serious health issues. It's in our soil. Its in our water. Its in our table salt. Its in our seafood. This is all of our problem.
OK MOMS & DADS, we have a 10 year window of time, NOT 10 YEARS TO START dabbling, 10 years to have a completely new system in play. Full permission... MAMA/PAPA BEAR needs to COME OUT, because your cubs are in real danger.
5 Gyres Institute, Founding Family
I just had the opportunity to attend a 5 Gyres Institute training in downtown L.A. 5 Gyres Institute works to bring science to solution with a vision of a plastic free planet. The training I attended, was hosted by 5 Gyres Co-founder, Anna Cummins and I heard the deep rooted passion in her delivery, after over 10 years of full scale science based work to help solve this crisis with her husband, Dr. Marcus Eriksen. I also had the privilege to hear and meet Jessica Aldridge, a certified Zero Waste Expert. Jessica, beyond being a rock star human, works in the field of waste management every day; then spends her off time giving presentations about ALL SHE SEE'S in her work.
Why does she work this hard talking trash? Because it matters to her that we all get the memo that waste management is a problem because WE USE TOO MUCH STUFF, and we ASSUME it can just be recycled away. In her work, Jessica actually sees, in real time, how little of the plastic waste is being recycled. Why isn't it getting recycled? Some of the reasons discussed, were the sheer magnitude of how much we're producing, using and throwing away, there has been a loss in value of recycled material, there is a high cost to process it and waste contamination sends so much to landfill. In fact, Jessica confirmed, THERE IS NO AWAY, we're stock piling this waste right now, until we can figure what the heck to do with it all.
Few people realize (including myself, before mentoring our AP Young Steward and 5 Gyres Ambassador!) that, less than 9% of plastic is recycled and this percentage is dropping, since we used to send this plastic waste to China (until 2016) and India, until they enacted restricted policies on the amount they would receive from the U.S.
Let's just hop on this wagon for a minute and imagine something... We have the privilege not to have to live in or even see the mountains of trash being produced from all the plastic waste we throw away because we have waste management to ship it out and around. This fact, makes it REALLY EASY for us, in our daily lives, to overlook a plastic pollution crisis that is impacting others more than we, at the moment, because we don't have to look at it, or live in it, for the most part. It's not piling up in our yards or, to the same magnitude, on our beaches, even though it's still there in micro-forms. But imagine you live in India, where we're shipping all of our plastic waste, and it's piled all over neighborhoods, city streets, beaches, waterways and little people with their mothers are mucking around in this murky waste to salvage any pieces they can find to sell for a livelihood. The rest is washing out to the ocean, WE ALL SHARE, to continue doing it's nasty business.
Plastic isn't going to disappear. It doesn't biodegrade, it just breaks apart and continues to destroy the planet and ecosystems we all rely on.
This is happening RIGHT NOW. There's nearly 5 trillion tons of this micro and nano plastic just on the sea surface alone and we're dumping the equivalent of one FULL garbage truck into the ocean EVERY SINGLE MINUTE. Clean ups are great, but clean up efforts can't keep up with the monstrous source we continue to feed. We HAVE TO STOP THE SOURCE and we all have to participate in this, TOGETHER. Yep, it's gonna be uncomfortable while we transition into our new norms... but what's the alternative?
I'm not willing to say, "Sorry sweethearts, the planet isn't going to be able to produce for you because we couldn't curb our love of plastic conveniences. Good luck with that." Sounds pretty ridiculous, doesn't it? SO, LETS GO TO WORK. MOMS AND DADS ARE NO STRANGER TO HARD WORK... WE CAN DO THIS.
SO, WHAT CAN WE DO NOW?
Jessica offered 4 KEY SOLUTIONS (I added 1 more) for us to participate as families & communities. These aren't just for activists, these are for every mama & papa bear (and everyone in between) who care to hand the planet down to their littles with healthy soil and water to sustain them.
- The ultimate GOAL is: REUSE and BRING YOUR OWN utensils, bags & take-out dishes. This is the NUMBER ONE SOLUTION we need to get to... I know, inconvenient. So, make it fun! As a family, shop for your own re-use items and make a pack to keep in the car for when you're out... We have a message to the companies selling these items: please make them affordable to the masses, we all need to participate, and for the most part, we've seen people wanting to, once they learn how! (PSST.... 1% for the Planet has a plethora of companies who sell these items!) Suggested items for your pack: coffee mug & lid, straw, utensils, plate, bowl, smoothie sized cup, small dish with lid (for dressing, salsa, hummus, jelly, whatever!), cloth napkin(s) and reusable bag)
- The NEXT BEST alternative, if you're out, ask for aluminum foil or paper to be used for to-go items. (But, the paper must be UNLINED. I literally saw images of how lined paper and cardboard food boxes break down... the fiber breaks down, the plastic stays to pollute our water supply, soil and ecosystems.)
- Your waste is NOT ECO-FRIENDLY, BIO-DEGRADABLE or COMPOSTABLE if it DOESN'T COMPOST IN THE NATURAL ENVIRONMENT. Don't be greenwashed into believing that your "alternative plastic" to-go cups, lids and other are biodegradable, there are A LOT of variables to this marketing claim. Look for 100% Fiber, Edibles and NON-COATED, plant based ware. Not available? Ask the business to switch... if they need help the Surfrider Restaurant Guide (and a script to activate it) is available on our AP Young Steward's Activation Page (link below) and Plastic Pollution Solutions assists business' in their quest to reduce their plastic footprint, take time to suggest their services. (Contact info also available on our Young Steward's Activation page)
- Waste management offers opportunities when SORTED CORRECTLY. Don't be sucked into WISH-CYCLING your trash! Just because YOU WANT IT TO BE RECYCLABLE DOESN'T MEAN IT IS. When you sort or dispose improperly, you contaminate the bin and send it to landfill instead of recycle! Visit our AP Young Steward's Activation Page (initiative #5) for the resources that will help you learn about waste sorting. We learned, from Jessica, that waste management is different in every district, so be sure you find out what your sorting practice should be and if improvements could be made, contact your local city council!
- Learn more about the policy changes that need to pass to insure that we all do our part to solve this crisis, making it possible to hand a healthy, regenerated planet to our children.
JOIN US IN ACTIVATING!
Let's have gratitude for the many organizations of people who are working tirelessly to get information, data, research and solutions into action on this crisis, by JOINING THEM! The days of tossing things away ARE OVER.
At AddyPres, we hope to inspire your participation with us, as families, educators, organizations, business' and communities, because it matters to all of us. Please visit our AP Young Steward, Addyson's Activation Page and ACTIVATE SUSTAINABLE SOLUTIONS NOW with her TOOLS & HELPERS!