By Lisa Kaas Boyle and David Helvarg
The inaugural March for the Ocean on June 9 in the U.S. capitol, with sister marches around the globe, has an appropriate call to action: 'The Ocean is Rising, and So are We.' Unfortunately so is a wave of plastic debris that won't go away.
In 2018, we face an existential threat to life on our planet. Fossil Fuel production is rising along with global temperature and plastic production. We are the only species that creates waste that the earth cannot digest. Plastic is designed to be resilient, and with our single-use application of this material, we are filling up our landfills and oceans from the surface to the basins with the stuff at a rate that recycling cannot ameliorate. At current rates of plastic entering our ocean, we will have more plastic than fish by weight in the year 2050.
The third R of the famed 3Rs (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) "recycling" has always been third in order of preference by corporations who don't want us reducing or reusing their consumer products. Reducing the use of an everlasting material like plastic is the best option for the environment, with reuse a distant second since plastics produce their own pollution. Their chemical components are increasingly found in all living things including the umbilical cords of newborn babies. Almost all of us have BPA (an industrial chemical) in our blood that comes from plastic leaching from bottles and from the lining of aluminum cans. Recycling simply delays a trip to the landfill as plastic recycling is rarely a closed loop (cannot be endlessly repeated) and it does not abate the constant flow of new plastic that continues to escape into our environment.
In fact, Recycling has been a big fail. It is a messy polluting process that has turned into an industry crisis since China - which was the dumping ground for our used plastic - recently closed its harbors to accepting any new plastic waste. The current market in America for used plastic is almost nonexistent thanks to continual production of fossil fuels that are used to make ever more and cheaper plastic.
"The bottom line is that what is recycled and what is not is directly linked to oil," says Tom Szaky, CEO of TerraCycle, which works with companies on programs to make packaging recyclable. "If the cost of collection and processing is greater than the material value, then the material becomes non-recyclable... And the material value is 100 percent dependent on oil prices."
What can we do before we are buried by our plastic waste or our seafood becomes a health hazard due to the impact of plastic pollution (tiny pieces of ocean plastic act like polymer sponges absorbing compounds such as PCBs and DDT a million times more effectively than sea water before working their way up the marine food web).
The organizers of the March for the Ocean are highlighting how we can begin to enact solutions to the plastic pollution challenge.
- First, through our own daily practices - The March will be plastic-free. When Ocean March Steering Committee members Dianna Cohen and co-writer Lisa Boyle founded Plastic Pollution Coalition in 2009, they added a new R to the famous 3Rs: Refuse. The March organizers are providing alternatives to single use plastic water bottles at their festivities on June 9. Participants are being encouraged to bring their own reusable water bottles and to fill and refill them using hydration stations. In addition, March participants are encouraged to download the free WeTap App in order to locate fountains along the March route and around the world. Plus there will be lists of sustainable restaurants and other ocean friendly sites near the march offering free water.
- The March is highlighting the ocean movement's increasing focus on corporate accountability for plastic pollution. We're moving from a focus on consumer education to holding the mass distributors of single use packaging to a higher standard. While it's true reversing the standard practice of putting plastic straws in every drink could prevent one of the top 10 plastic items found on beach clean-ups worldwide from entering the waste stream, it’s no longer enough to be talking to an underpaid restaurant or coffee house server on why she shouldn’t be serving plastic straws. Major retail and wholesale corporations are going to have to start explaining to their customers, shareholders and our public servants why they are killing our public seas one throwaway item at a time. We will bring pressure to both expose and reform them until they provide realistic plans for how they will make a timely transition away from petroleum based plastic packaging.
We are Marching for the ocean not only to say No to plastic pollution but also No to the Trump Administration’s plans to open up over 90 percent of U.S. ocean waters to offshore oil drilling and spilling. We say yes to clean job-generating renewable energy. Yes to ocean friendly packaging. Yes to protecting our living coasts and communities – both human and wild – from rising seas, and other fossil fuel fired climate disruptions. Yes to a healthy ocean and clean, plastic free water for all.
Lisa Kaas Boyle, Esq. Is an environmental attorney, co-founder of Plastic Pollution Coalition and serves on the March for the Ocean Steering Committee.
David Helvarg is an author, Executive Director of Blue Frontier, an ocean conservation and policy group and chair of the march steering committee.