Eighteen billion pounds of plastic end up in the ocean each year, and stay there as it takes 500 to 1,000 years for plastic to degrade. Ocean currents swirl this disaster into the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in North Pacific Gyre off the coast of California. This atrocity is the largest ocean garbage site in the world. It is twice the size of Texas, with plastic pieces outnumbering sea life six to one.

As a society we embraced the convenience of plastics and were lulled into complacency by recycling and recycled products. We have exported our mixed recyclables to other countries and closed our eyes to the enormous garbage dumps that now litter their landscapes. For decades, China, Indonesia and others have bought our recyclable material but that is now ending and the recyclables that we used to export stay here and we must deal with them.

I see two parts to this problem. First we do not really understand what can and cannot be recycled and we are not taking care to sort items properly and, second, we are not actively working to eliminate plastics from our lives. The rest of this article addresses actions we can take today and from now on to stop using some plastics. Here are a few more reasons to urge you to action:

  • One million sea birds and 100,000 marine mammals are killed annually from plastic in our oceans. Forty-four percent of all seabird species, 22 percent of cetaceans, all sea turtle species and a growing list of fish species have been documented with plastic in or around their bodies.

  • Samples from Lake Erie showed 85 percent of the plastic particles were smaller than two-tenths of an inch, and much of that was microscopic. Researchers found 1,500 to 1.7 million of these particles per square mile.

  • Virtually every piece of plastic that was ever made still exists in some shape or form (with the exception of the small amount that has been incinerated).

  • Plastic chemicals can be absorbed by the human body. Ninety-three percent of Americans aged six and older tested positive for BPA (a plastic chemical).

  • Some compounds found in plastic can also alter hormones or have other potentially deleterious effects on human health.

Now we know the reasons to act, what can we do ? We can support efforts to clean beaches and oceans of the plastic already in them, and we can all stop using single-use plastics today. These disposable plastics used once then mostly thrown away include plastic bags, straws, coffee stirrers, soda and water bottles and most food packaging. Their are alternatives to all of them. Such as:

  • Using stainless steel or reusable water bottles and drinking cups

  • Buying beverages in glass containers

  • Bringing your own grocery bags, refusing plastic bags, or asking for paper

  • Skipping the straw and plastic stirrer, or switching to an alternative

  • Finding alternatives to plastic wrap

For more concrete examples of alternatives to plastic, go to the website 

plasticpollutioncoalition.org, scroll down and click on Live Plastic Free.

As we become activists on this issue and join others to lobby companies or our state to eliminate single-use plastics, it is useful to know who is already making changes and who needs our attention. Here is a partial list of those ending their use of single-use plastics, specifically, plastic straws and plastic bags:

  • Sea World with 12 theme parks has ended all single-use plastics
  • Seattle banned single-use plastics from all restaurants
  • Royal Caribbean Cruise line with 50 ships is ending single-use plastics by 2019
  • Ikea is ending single-use plastics by 2020
  • California is considering a ban statewide and the UK government plans to introduce a ban
  • Starbucks is phasing out single-use plastics in Europe, but is resisting a phase-out in the USA

The Plastic Pollution Coalition states that by 2017, only 1,800 restaurants, organizations. institutions and schools worldwide stopped using single-use plastics. So there is still much work for us to do. Perhaps we can start by setting the example and then lobbying NCJW as whole to pledge no single-use plastics at any NCJW meeting.

Lesley Frost, Advocacy Chair

Sources: earthday.org, plasticpollutioncoalition.org, care2.com, npr.org greenopedia.com 4ocean.com, national geographic, ecowatch.com, livegreen.recyclebank.com