The news on plastic waste continues to worsen. A research team led by the Woods Hole Institute recently released the outcomes of a study that evaluated plastic waste generated in the United States in 2016. In addition to many megatons of plastic waste illegally dumped in the United States, they discovered that nearly another megaton of US waste was exported to other countries and improperly managed. Consequently, the amount of plastic waste that entered coastal water environments was five times larger than the amount estimated in 2010. They concluded that Americans generate the most plastic waste in the world.
The global production of plastic in 2018 reached 359 million metric tons, a staggering amount of material that is not compatible with nature. If you look around your house, your workplace, your community, it is clear that Americans have become addicted to plastic. The younger generations were handed this lifestyle, which they, unfortunately, know as normal. The environmental and health consequences of massive plastic waste are bleak, but the problem continues to intensify.
Many organizations have been working to educate the public on plastic waste and recycling, encourage bans on plastic bags, and implement alternatives to single-use plastics. The American population does not fully participate in recycling. Also, the recycling industry faces struggles with reducing the value of used plastics when oil and gas prices are low. Our youth and future generations depend on us to change the tide of this massive waste problem, to afford them intergenerational justice. This can be done successfully on so many levels if a little care and effort become part of life’s equation. Here are a few changes you can make at home to reduce plastics in your everyday lives.
· Acquire reusable bags and use them for all of your purchases. Choose to refuse plastic bags in sales transactions.
· Utilize reusable cups and bottles. Avoid fast food purchases of drinks, which are mostly distributed in plastic that is probably not recyclable. Stop purchasing bottled water and save money. Keep in mind that tap water is usually just as healthy as bottled water.
· Switch out liquid soap with bar soap. Several companies now make bar shampoo and conditioners and other personal care products that do not require plastic containers.
· Use granular laundry detergent instead of liquid detergents.
· Tally your plastic use and make a plan to reduce it by 20, 30, or 50% by finding alternatives.
Each time you refuse a plastic (especially single-use plastics), you are choosing a cleaner world. From Pope Francis’s “A prayer for our earth” in the Laudato Si, “All-powerful God, bring healing to our lives, that we may protect the world and not prey on it, that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.”
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.