When I read a couple of months ago that scientists expect the amount of plastic in Earth’s oceans to outweigh the fish by 2050, I was first astonished and then angry. What are we doing to our planet home? I pledged right then to greatly reduce my reliance on single-use plastic in 2020. With Oregon’s law eliminating plastic bags to begin on January 1, the timing seemed right.
Then began a frightening period of growing awareness when I looked around my house, my car, my office, and the grocery store and saw plastic literally every- where. In 1950, with about 2.5 billion people on Earth, we produced 1.5-2 million tons of plastic. In 2016, when Earth’s population totaled more than 7 billion, plastic production had soared to 320-380 million metric tons annually. It’s even more now.
Eight million metric tons of plastic are added to the oceans each and every year. In recent studies, researchers learned that plastic pollution has affected all (that’s 100%) of marine turtles, 59% of whales, 36% of seals, and 40% of seabird species. Unfortunately, I have since learned that the problem of plastic pollution is not restricted to the oceans and is indeed far worse than what we can actually see.
Microplastics—used in everything from cosmetics to synthetic clothing to detergents, shampoos, and more—enter the sewage system when we launder our clothes and wash our bodies. They then are incorporated into the sludge fertilizer that growers use to amend their soil. From there, microplastics enter the food chain. When microplastics are manufactured or big plastics break down into small pieces, they also pollute the air we breathe.
Another nasty result of the breakdown of larger plastics is that the process releases dangerous additives. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found BPA (Bisphenol A) in 93% of urine samples taken from people older than 6. BPA disrupts hormone systems and is associated with prostate cancer in humans. Phthalates, an additive that makes plastics more flexible, is linked to weight gain, insulin resistance, and reproductive problems. Quoted in Environmental Health News, Mike Schade, a cam- paign director at Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, says that “even babies are being born pre-polluted with these unnecessary dangerous chemicals.”
Our addiction to plastics is bad for marine life, animals in the soil microbiome, and us, but it’s unrealistic to think we can quit making it or using it cold turkey. LuAnn Staul and I will keep our Tupperware®, but we’re also mindfully considering options in our daily lives. Is that juice available in a glass bottle? How can I buy produce without using a flimsy plastic bag to carry it to the checkout line? Are there options that eliminate those big jugs of laundry soap? We’ll share our ideas and solutions in coming weeks.
Meanwhile, [read the] the Sojourner article about plastic and the state of our souls…. It’s all about how plastics are killing us spiritually as well as physically.
– Carol Harker, St. Andrew Lutheran Church
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