The next few Green Junction columns will focus on plastic pollution by Julie Peller Ph.D

Green Junction

The next few Green Junction columns will focus on plastic pollution, which is an extensive, global environmental and public health problem.  Each will also offer a college student’s view through poetry, as we need to understand the concerns of the younger generation.  My colleagues and I have written and instituted a lab experiment in our general chemistry courses, which educates students on plastic waste.  Students who took part in the experiment, and who are mindful of this huge waste problem, are the authors of the poems.

Worldwide, an estimated 1-5 trillion plastic bags are consumed each year, equal to more than a million plastic bags per minute. Plastic bags can take up to a thousand years to decompose.  Plastic bags are cheap and handy but pollute the earth. Plastic bags and other single-use plastics become garbage almost immediately after their purpose; they are part of our unsustainable, throwaway culture. Currently, plastic bags are difficult to recycle; the vast majority are thrown away or escape into the environment. These film plastics are hazardous to wildlife, clog waterways and are commonly buried in soils.

Plastic bags have contaminated nearly every natural habitat. It is now common to see birds’ nests containing plastic film. Studies show that in soils contaminated with plastic pieces, the microscopic ecosystem is different from the normal soil microorganisms.  The presence of plastic waste is transforming the natural world, with harmful and unknown consequences.

The survival of the coronavirus has been analyzed on different surfaces, including plastic.  It survives substantially longer on plastic surfaces in comparison to natural materials, such as wood and cotton. It is important to know that throughout this pandemic, the plastics industry has been strongly promoting plastic bags as the safest way to transport goods. In a letter to high-level officials, the industry cites studies of uncleaned reusable bags, where the items transported in the bags became contaminated.  The industry claims, based on these studies, that reusable bags are unsanitary and pose a danger.  However, the collective information indicates that regularly cleaned reusable bags may be the safest option.

While we contend with this devastating, contagious virus, responsible actions are those that respect all of Creation, ensure the health and safety of all people and reduce all public health problems, including plastic waste.

“She the Sea” written by Sophie Morelock. “She struggles, struggles for the air she won’t find. For this is the end of the line, it was only a matter of time. She has a family too, you know. Full of life and those that grow. But the plastic poison has the power seeping quietly through the shadows. How to survive? She asks. When what keeps me alive is nothing but a lie, hurting me within the depths. She is too small and they are far too strong. They decide between right and wrong. For they are larger and the plastic bottle is no harmer, For the human, Stronger than She the sea, Ruler of the world.”  Thank you, Sophie.

 

Julie Peller Ph.D. is an environmental chemist (Professor of Chemistry at Valparaiso University ) and she leads the Environmental Ministry at Nativity of Our Savior in Portage IN. Julie has been writing a weekly column for church bulletins for the past ~5 years called the Green Junction and is helping to move the call of Laudato Si to action forward. Her Research Interests are in Advanced oxidation for aqueous solutions, water quality analyses, emerging contaminants, air quality analyses, Lake Michigan shoreline challenges (Cladophora, water, and sediment contaminants), student and citizen participation in environmental work.

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