I RECENTLY read a letter in the local news that said the equivalent of a loaded garbage truck of plastic gets dumped in the ocean every sixty seconds. I thought this is surely a dramatic illustration caused to catch our attention. Well it did catch my attention. and I found out it’s true.
Last I wrote, it was setting the stage to think about our relationship with the natural environment, and how we value it during the era of a pandemic. Now we are adding into the mix a global awakening to racial violence and oppression of communities of color.
I arrive this month questioning, when did we begin framing issues like deforestation, offshore drilling, and plastic pollution as only environmental — when nature, wildlife and water, are all part of our indispensable planetary community.
We will all need safe and healthy natural environments to return to once this public health crisis is behind us. We should also work to ensure that Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color have equal access and safety in these natural spaces.
I caution us to consider, when we frame things as only environmental; nature, wildlife and waters risk becoming deemed as 1. less important, 2. concerns of the privileged, and or 3. separate from our own life and health and wellness. When it comes to plastic pollution this is important to consider.
Plastics for the market have been around since about 1907, when it was called Bakelite, invented by Leo Baekeland. You can see this material used to create plenty of early 1900s antique jewelry in bright fun colors. It was favored for its light weight, moldable quality and durability.
Fast forward to the 1940s and plastics came into use for even more consumer goods. By mid-century we adopted a new culture of throw away consumerism.
However, plastics were still synthetic and usually petroleum-based. This means we were ramping up the production of throw away objects, that would last for a very long time in landfills – or even forever.
This total disregard for where discarded plastics would go is one of our most challenging issues we face today. This moment where we fell for the appeal of a throw away culture was when we took a useful invention and made it mass produced pollutant on our planet.
Why would we utilize a material that lasts longer than our own lives, for something we only use for a moment? That’s an ouroboros of its own kind.
Plastics do not go away. They move out of sight and out of mind, often floating off in wind and water. Plastics entangle all sorts of wildlife.
Some plastics are ingested by birds, marine mammals, sea turtles and more. Scientists are even finding plastics in the fish we eat, and the air we breathe.
Coming full circle, to this fact that plastic never goes away, it simply moves around polluting our planet. Sometimes plastics even break down into even smaller, more dangerous and harder to manage sizes.
For years, public health researchers have linked problematic health conditions with plastics. It’s sad to use plastic pollution as an example of how we’re so connected, but it’s true. The connection between nature, wildlife, waters, and us is crystal clear.
Plastic pollution can be found across oceans, rivers, forests, and streets. I call it pollution because that’s what it is. Some might call it litter or debris. I’d argue that it wouldn’t exist if we weren’t producing and consuming so much of it.
Throw away objects mean so little to us; I can assure you nobody wants to be buried with their plastic straws or polystyrene takeout containers. So why does it get to take up so much space?
Not only are disposable plastics problematic, the actual production of plastics is dangerous too. Production facilities developed in minority, rural, low income and blue-collar communities.
This further exhausts any connections between healthy nature, water and wildlife and the people in these places. My places.
This means plastic pollution is not simply an environmental issue, it’s a threat to our mental and physical health, and the health and future of other species. Is this toxic heritage what we want?
I’ve looked at several reports to find out how large the scale of plastics is, and how the impacts of plastic pollution effect our lives. There are many good sources out there.
Thankfully, there are organizations, many passionate people, and elected leaders who are finding ways to stop the destruction caused by this global industry of scale. This is the direction we need to go.
When you reflect on life’s beauty it’s often derived from memories with family, friends and nature around us - which are all an extension of us. We are not separate.
When we are outside connecting with our planet, it is the shells in the sand, the birds in the trees, and the fish in the sea which we should be counting and connecting with, not toxic plastic crime scenes.