Plastic pollution is a huge problem worldwide, with single-use plastics being major culprits. To address this, at the July 4 Run/Walk this year in Mount Shasta, event registrants will not receive single-use plastic water bottles. Instead, the Mountain Runners will set up water stations along the Run/Walk routes for participants to refill their own water bottles (with paper cups for those without a bottle).
Single-use plastics include plastic grocery bags, plastic beverage bottles, condiment containers, and most processed food packaging, to name a few. You have probably heard about the floating islands of plastic waste in the oceans and seen photos of aquatic wildlife poisoned by plastic waste. You have probably heard about studies finding microplastics in the human food chain, including in humans, and about the endocrine-disrupting chemical (bad for human and animal life) they can carry. You may know that it can take a millennium or more for plastics to degrade. You might recycle your single use plastic bottles, but sadly only about 10 percent of recyclable plastic is recycled worldwide.
Most plastic recycling until recently was done in China (with negative transportation impacts). As of Jan 1, 2018, however, China is no longer taking recyclable plastics. This has resulted in a huge backlog of plastics in recycling centers as people look for some alternative route for recycling. Unfortunately, there are no current alternatives that are economically feasible. In some cases, the plastic waste has been shipped to unlicensed recyclers in other countries that do not have the capacity to recycle--so it ends up in landfills or as mountains of waste in rural and low income areas. Malaysia is one such country; its government recently announced it will start sending waste-filled ships back to the countries of origin.
Perhaps most striking is a recent amendment to the Basel Convention, an international treaty that controls transboundary movements of hazardous wastes and their disposal. Last month, a gathering of participating countries voted to add plastic waste to the list of hazardous wastes it regulates, thus deeming plastic waste as hazardous. This creates legally-binding regulations and transparency on how plastic waste can be transported across international boundaries (The US, one of the world's largest producers of plastics, is not a signer to this treaty). Several countries have already made commitments to eliminate single use plastics: UK, EU, and Canada.
Plastic Free July (plasticfreejuly.org) recommends ways we can all help eliminate single use plastic:
purchase reusable grocery bags made of natural fibers;
reuse glass jars from previously purchased food items (peanut butter, pasta sauces, etc.), rather than buying plastic food storage containers:
buy food in bulk in reused bags.
cook from scratch to eliminate prepackaged processed foods;
bring our own reusable cup/bottle to the coffee shop, meetings, and other venues where single use cups or bottles are otherwise used;
avoid water and beverages packaged in single-use bottles;
use the “Tap app” (https://findtap.com) to find water bottle refill stations wherever you go.
Consider how you can reduce plastic waste at home, school, and the work-place. Some of us can remember the time before single use plastics arrived on the market; society thrived without them. Let’s choose alternatives--and support legislation (at all levels of government) that bans single use plastics.
And let’s all remember to bring our own water bottles to our Mount Shasta July 4 events.
Plastic Free July (plasticfreejuly.org) is an international movement that provides resources and ideas to help each of us reduce single-use plastic waste everyday at home, work, school, and even at the local coffee shops. Its website is well worth studying.