My recent walks along the Lake Michigan shoreline continue to stir up the conflicting emotions of wonder and anguish. The beautiful shoreline sand is contaminated with refuse, similar to other coastal areas around the world. The scattered materials reveal realities of modern society, namely our throwaway/disposable culture, which relies on the plastics industry. The average person in the United States generates more than 4 pounds of trash each day and a significant amount is plastic-based. When a percentage of this garbage escapes collection or is not properly disposed or recycled, the environment, wildlife, and human health suffer. It is the long-lasting plastic waste most visible in the sand.
I observed overflowing garbage cans during an early morning visit, but most of the shoreline waste, which has been accumulating over time, wash up from the water. The weathered refuse exists in all shapes and sizes and is mostly plastic: bottles and caps, food wrappers, ribbon, balloons, random pieces, etc. In 1950, 2 million metric tons of plastic were manufactured worldwide, and currently, the global annual production is over 360 million metric tons. The projection is for rapid increases in plastic production, which will devastate the environment far beyond the current polluted state.
The solution to our massive plastic waste problem involves many components. We all must take ownership of the problem – end the everyday consumption and disposal of so much short-term stuff. However, voluntary activities only go so far in addressing the waste polluting our natural systems. The most effective manner to address plastic waste is through legislation; this has been taking place in many areas around the globe. There are no federal laws in the US, but that can change if people support the BREAK FREE FROM PLASTIC POLLUTION legislation. Senate Bill 3263 and House bill 5845 consists of a comprehensive set of actions that include responsibilities/accountability for plastic producers, deposits on certain plastic containers, and bans on unnecessary single-use plastics. Here is a website with information: https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/5845. The legislation needs support. Concerned citizens should contact elected officials on every level and request their endorsement of this legislation.
To become better acquainted with this pollution problem and understand the need for enforceable rules, I highly recommend a documentary offered through Amazon Prime called “The Story of Plastic.” It costs only $2.99 to access the excellent and eye-opening worldwide exploration of the plastic waste problem. We have an opportunity to make significant corrections to this massive environmental problem. It is an opportunity to show care for Creation, Our Common Home, and future generations.
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.