I admit it. I’m guilty of using plastic bags, even though I know they are harmful to the environment and especially to the oceans. I use reusable cloth bags at the grocery store and I recycle plastic bags at home, but I could do more; we could all do more.
According to the National Geographic, “The working life of a plastic bag is just 15 minutes”, but many of these bags end up in the oceans, landfills, and other areas where they cause damage to our wildlife and, where they will remain for centuries because plastic is not biodegradable.
I am equally guilty of using plastic straws even though I know they, too, are harmful to the environment. The problem with straws is that they are small and usually not recycled. A five-year study found that there are nearly 7.5 million plastic straws polluting American shorelines and like all plastics, they are not biodegradable. Americans, among the biggest polluters, discard 500 million plastic straws every day.
Some states, such as California and Hawaii and some cities (Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle ban plastic bags. New York City, Portland (Maine) and Washington, D.C. not only ban plastic bags, but also charge fees for their use. New Zealand has banned single-use plastic bags in grocery stores. New York City and San Francisco have both passed proposals to ban plastic straws.
Unfortunately, here in Pennsylvania there are no laws to ban either plastic bags or straws. This is something we should bring to the attention of our law makers. In addition, we should encourage our grocery stores and other retailers to stop using plastic bags and for grocery stores to stop selling plastic straws. Reusable cloth bags are a good alternative to plastic bags. Paper straws, silicone straws, and metal straws could be used to replace plastic straws.
All of these measures are small and relatively easy steps that could be taken to reduce our plastic waste. Other steps offered by the National Geographic are: pass up plastic bottles (use refillable water bottles), avoid plastic packaging (give up plastic plates and cups and use bar soap instead of liquid), recycle (currently the U.S. recycles only 9% of its plastic compared to 18% globally) and don’t litter.
I can do better and so can we all. All it takes is a little imagination and a little determination. Our oceans, in particular, are in desperate need of our caring.
“Planet or Plastic?”, National Geographic Magazine, June 2018.
Carol Sundeen, Lower Makefield