New York City Ends ‘Unnecessary Single-Use Plastic Bottles’

Today New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio delivered an executive order to end “unnecessary single-use plastic bottles.” The order prohibits city agencies from purchasing water or soda or other beverages in single-use plastic bottles and restricts the sale of plastic bottles on city property. This includes food vendors on city sidewalks, parks, and sports facilities.

New York City government previously cut plastic straws and cutlery from every city location, from schools to hospitals.

Communities all over the world are taking action to stop plastic pollution. Americans alone discard more than 30 million tons of plastic a year; less than 8 percent of it gets recycled.

To learn more about the actions you can take, visit the Global Plastic Reduction Legislative Toolkit.

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Photo by Sandra Curtis

California Businesses, Local Governments, and Environmentalists Join Bipartisan Lawmakers’ Group to Urge Passage of Law to Cut Packaging and Plastic Product Pollution

SACRAMENTO —  Today California businesses, local governments, environmental advocates, and students joined a bipartisan group of lawmakers at the California State Capitol to call for the passage of a proposed law offering the most comprehensive framework in the nation to curb the single-use plastics and packaging waste crisis. The rally highlighted the findings of a recent Public Policy Institute of California poll revealing that 90% of Californians think plastic pollution is a problem for the future of the state. 

The coalition urged passage of Assembly Bill 1080 (Gonzalez) and Senate Bill 54 (Allen), together known as the California Circular Economy and Plastic Pollution Reduction Act, a proposed law addressing the waste crisis from beginning to end — from before a product is ever created or purchased, until it is ready for disposal.  The measure requires that manufacturers transition their products from wasteful, harmful single-use packaging and the top ten most littered single-use plastic items to reusable, compostable, and/or recyclable models.  It creates reasonable timelines to make these changes, requiring an overall waste reduction of such items by 75 percent by the year 2030. The Act also calls for incentives for in-state manufacturing using recycled materials.  Together, these requirements will cut back on the amount and type of trash going into landfills and litter entering neighborhoods, parks, waterways, and the ocean, which will protect wildlife and human health.

“Our local communities are in the middle of a waste crisis, and our neighborhoods and waterways are polluted with litter. We need to act, and we need to do more than one-off bans on products. AB 1080 takes a comprehensive approach to the plastics problem,” said Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, author of AB 1080. “It’s time to pass AB 1080 and make California a leader in reducing pollution from single-use packaging and plastics.”

“We have a waste and pollution crisis on our hands, and the bottom has fallen out of the global recycling market with China’s decision to no longer take our trash,” said Senator Ben Allen, author of SB 54.  “This legislation provides a comprehensive plan to transition manufacturers and consumers toward more sustainable packaging and products. Single-use plastic items are destroying our oceans, marine life, and the broader environment, and harming human health.  And cities are forced to spend millions of taxpayer dollars on waste management and cleanup that could be used for other essential services. It is time for California to take this crisis seriously and set a course to address it that will be a model for other states and countries to follow.”

By increasing recycling rates and incentivizing the in-state manufacture of goods using more recycled content and materials, the Act will end California’s existing reliance on other countries to take its waste, and it will boost the state economy.  Currently, California waste and recycling industries are struggling to adapt to China’s 2017 “National Sword” policy to stop accepting other nations’ trash. This has resulted in Californians’ garbage and recyclables piling up at local waste facilities, going into landfills, being incinerated, or being shipped to other countries in Asia that cannot process the sheer amount of trash coming to them.  California’s local governments — and, therefore, ratepayers — are experiencing increased costs as a result. But if fully implemented, the Act’s 75 percent recycling rate will help reduce California’s need to ship so much waste out-of-state. It is also expected to double the existing 125,000 California jobs in recycling and manufacturing, and to reduce the costs of disposing of plastic waste.  

SB 54 is currently under consideration in the Assembly Appropriations Committee, and AB 1080 is in the Senate Appropriations Committee.  They must be passed by the Legislature by September 13 and signed by the Governor by October 13 to take effect. If passed, the Act will provide a blueprint for a long term reduction in the quantity of single-use plastics affecting California ecosystems and taxpayer dollars and human health. 

“Plastic Pollution Coalition urges your support of this legislation to dramatically reduce plastic and packaging waste in California,” said Dianna Cohen, Co-Founder and CEO of Plastic Pollution Coalition. “It’s time for California to take the next step towards Zero Waste to protect human and animal health, waterways, oceans, and our environment for years to come.”

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Officials from Los Angeles City and County, CA joined community stakeholders and representatives from various water organizations in honor of the fifth annual Tap Water Day LA on May 9.

The local, Los Angeles based non-profit WeTap initiated Tap Water Day in 2015 with support from Mayor Eric Garcetti, the CA State Water Board, LADWP, LACDPH, The California Endowment and others with the goal of raising awareness of cities’ clean, reliable drinking water.

“Tap water in LA – our tap water is great – it’s clean, it’s high quality, it tastes great … Our tap water is better than bottled water.” said Mayor Eric Garcetti in his 2017 Tap Water Day speech.

Tap Water Day LA reminds us of the importance clean drinking water plays in our lives and should be a point of civic pride especially in light of water quality issues in other parts of the country and the world. “We are grateful for our civic leaders coming together to renew their commitment to improving and maintain existing drinking fountains and add new filling stations in our neighborhoods,” said Evelyn Wendel, Founding Director, WeTap. “We look forward in the coming years when all schools, all parks and all public hubs have a robust drinking fountain network for the health of our communities and our environment.”

In many parts of the world, access to safe drinking water is a luxury — one that many Angelenos take for granted or worse, mistakenly fear tap water and instead opt for bottled water. “Every day, LADWP delivers 550 million gallons of the highest quality water at the lowest possible cost to our 4 million customers in LA,” said Marty Adams, LADWP Senior Assistant General Manager. “We want the public to know that our drinking water is protected by hundreds of employees who manage our treatment processes, operate and maintain our treatment facilities and vigilantly monitor and test the water we serve.” Today LADWP is the largest municipally owned and operated retail water utility in the country, serving a population of about 4 million residents and an area of 464 square miles.

Los Angeles’ drinking water meets and exceeds state and federal drinking water standards for all contaminants. In 2016, LADWP supplied nearly 160 billion gallons of drinking water to more than 4 million residents and businesses. Over the 12-month period, water quality teams collected nearly 40,000 water samples throughout the city and conducted more than 140,000 water quality tests for compliance as well as for research and operational improvements.

The U.S. federal government requires more rigorous safety monitoring of municipal tap water than it does of bottled water. Today’s celebration serves to highlight the importance of using our vital water resources for drinking and builds awareness that public fountains provide a sustainable solution for weaning the public off single-use plastic bottles. On average, the U.S. purchases and consumes close to 50 billion plastic bottles a year with only 40 percent being recycled. Bottling and shipping increases the cost and result in unnecessary increases in carbon emissions. The cost of bottled water can cost about $7.50 a gallon. On average LADWP drinking water costs ¢0.02 per gallon.

Public fountains not only provide free drinking water for residents, but also serve as symbols of an expansive system supplying water, which includes a state-of-the-art filtration plant, two aqueducts, three groundwater treatment facilities, dozens of treatment stations, 78 pumping stations, 114 tanks and reservoirs, 421 pressure regulator stations, and 500 miles of trunklines and a 7,200 mile network of distribution pipes. Tap Water Day is a time to remind Angelenos that our public drinking fountains provide an alternative to wasteful plastic bottles and are a direct access to delicious, healthy water.

Executive Director Wendel reminds us, “The goal of Tap Water Day is to simply value tap water – both the quality and access. Public awareness is essential to ensuring our water remains available, tasty and protected.”

For more information, visit PPC member WeTap.

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By Jan Dell, Independent Engineer, The Last Beach Cleanup

As the equivalent of 65 trash trucks per day[1] of plastic waste are dumped into the ocean in the United States (U.S.) via our land, rivers and coasts, companies that make and sell plastic and single use disposable plastic products continue to tell us that recycling is the primary solution to plastic pollution.  The relentless focus on the future path for recycling plastic packaging flies in the face of the hard facts: post-consumer plastic recycling in the U.S. is generally economically impractical. For example, polypropylene #5 plastic cups and lids promoted as recyclable by fast food companies are not recyclable in a growing number of places of the U.S. As a result, about 6 times more post-consumer plastic waste is burned in the U.S. than is domestically recycled.

Most importantly, there is no proof that plastic material recyclability or access to recycling bins genuinely reduces plastic pollution. Conversely, in The Behavioral Economics of Recycling study published in the October 2016 Harvard Business Review, Remi Trudel at Boston University performed tests that showed people used more cups and gift wrap when there was a recycling bin available. The findings suggested that “consumers feel comfortable using a larger amount of a resource when recycling is an option”.  In testimony to the Colorado State Legislature in defense of expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam food containers over replacement by recyclable products, a chemical industry representative stated “This doesn’t mean replacement products will be recycled or reduce litter”.

What does work to reduce plastic pollution? As detailed later in this article, there is abundant proof from numerous studies around the world that legal mechanisms, including plastic bag bans and beverage container deposit laws, do successfully decrease plastic pollution.

Plastic pollution is a blight in our cities and on our landscapes and harms our rivers, ocean and many species who mistake plastic for food.  The U.S. ranks 20th on the list of countries contributing to plastic pollution in the ocean with an estimated 88 to 242 million pounds/year. The annual International Coastal Cleanup confirmed the evidence of plastic pollution on U.S. coasts in 2017 when more than 3.7 million pounds of trash, the majority of it plastic, was collected on a single day. The Chattanooga River, still filled with plastic pollution despite continual cleanups, proves that volunteer efforts aren’t enough.

Making matters worse, plastic pollution is an expanding problem as production and consumption of new plastic grows in the U.S. As an independent chemical engineer on a quest to The Last Beach Cleanup, I believe we can’t afford to be distracted by illusory schemes. We must use sound science, credible data and economic facts to adopt legitimate plastic pollution reduction strategies to make real progress at serious scale now.

The Real Story is in the U.S. Government Data

The U.S. Government publishes two sets of data related to plastic waste and recycling. Each year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) publishes the “Advancing Sustainable Materials Management: Facts and Figures Report” with details of the fate of municipal waste. The publication of this report lags by about three years. In July 2018, the USEPA published the 2015 Data Tables.  Each month, the U.S. Census Bureau Trade Online publishes export data for shipments of plastic waste (officially called “waste, paring and scrap”) generated in the U.S. and sent to other countries. The plastic waste exported is predominantly low value municipal plastic waste.  Combined together, the two datasets tell the story of the very low domestic municipal plastic recycling rate in the U.S.

Figure 1 shows that in 2015, before China’s National Sword policy had been announced or enacted, 2.26 million tons of U.S. plastic waste were exported and counted as recycled. Since the USEPA reported that a total of 3.14 million tons were recycled, that means only about 0.88 million tons of municipal plastic waste were recycled domestically in the U.S. in 2015. That is only 2.5% of the total 34.5 million tons of plastic waste that Americans generated. About six times as much municipal plastic waste was burned in the U.S. in 2015 than was domestically recycled.  As exposed in the video documentary “Plastic China” and more than twenty other documentaries and reports, we now know that the exported plastic waste was not all recycled and some of it was also burned.

Now let’s look at 2018: While the U.S. Census Bureau has published plastic waste export data for 2018, the USEPA will not publish the 2018 plastic waste data until 2021. Using industry and news reports, an estimate can be made of how much municipal plastic waste was generated, burned, recycled and landfilled in the U.S. in 2018. While it’s not possible to make an exact prediction of the missing data, a solid engineering estimate of material flows can be made.

In 2018, the total amount of plastic waste generated in the U.S. likely rose to about 39.9 million tons, based on a growth rate of 5% which is equal to the annual growth rate of U.S. bottled water sales. U.S. Census Bureau data shows that plastic waste exports shrunk to 1.19 million tons, primarily because of China’s import restrictions. U.S. plastic waste recycling capacity and production were not reported to have measurably increased by industry and news reports. A sizable new polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic bottle recycler started operations in Los Angeles in late 2018. But, according to the 2016 NAPCOR PET Container Recycling Activity report, 7 of 28 PET recyclers shut down removing 16.6% of processing capacity in 2016.  Based on latest plastics industry recycling reports, domestic recycling of the three top plastic bottle types (#1 PET, #2 HDPE and #3 PP) stayed flat between 2015 and 2017. That means that domestic plastic waste recycling likely remained at about 0.88 million tons. The total amount of plastic waste sent to incineration in 2018 was likely at least as much as in 2015. While two incineration facilities closed during that period, remaining facilities were reported to burn more plastic waste, including about half Philadelphia’s recyclables as reported by The New York Times. In the comprehensive survey of “How recycling is changing in all 50 states”, industry news source Waste Dive reports that plastics collected for recycling are now also being sent to incinerators in Connecticut, Florida, and Wisconsin.

Adding it all together, that means that the U.S. recycled only about 2% of our municipal plastic waste in our domestic facilities and we continued to burn more than six times that amount in 2018.  The ratio may have been even higher, but cities are reluctant to publicize the fact that plastic is being sent to incineration instead of recycling.

Why Isn’t More Plastic Waste Being Recycled in the U.S.?

Product manufacturers prefer new plastic because there is higher material quality and supply certainty at a lower cost.  Using recycled plastic poses contamination and delivery risks and higher costs that manufacturers wish to avoid, resulting in weak demand for recycled plastic.

The costs of recycling include many trucks and drivers to collect the widely dispersed waste, labor and equipment to sort the waste, and processing facilities to clean and convert the material.  Recycling costs are increasing due to tight truck driver and labor markets. Conversely, cheap and abundant natural gas and massive new plastic production expansion is driving the prices of new plastics lower.  These factors work against the key premise that waste plastic will someday have enough value to drive recycling it rather than disposing or destroying it.

The economic realities of cheap new plastic production and low-cost oil and gas production make mechanical and chemical recycling processes economically uncompetitive and impractical at commercial scale.  To quote the chemical industry representative again, “There’s a big difference between what’s technically recyclable and what’s being recycled”. For example, there was a report earlier this year of 10,000 lbs. of unwanted plastic bag waste sitting in a Southern Illinois warehouse because no one wanted to buy it for recycling.

While some companies have made promises to voluntary incorporate more recycled plastic in their products, it isn’t clear that market demand is significantly increasing. In fact, in response to California’s law requiring disclosure of recycled content in beverage bottles, Coca-Cola reported a decrease in recycled content in their soda bottles from 16% in 2017 to 9% in 2018. The company also reported that they still do not use recycled plastic in non-carbonated water, tea, sports drinks and fruit juice beverage bottles sold in California.

Plastic recycling itself also creates plastic waste. The latest NAPCOR report on PET beverage bottle recycling stated that about 29.2% of PET beverage bottles in the U.S. were collected for recycling.  But due to contamination and process losses, not all of that material is actually processed into “clean flake” material for recycling. In fact, about a third of the collected bottle material is disposed to landfill or destroyed in incineration, leaving only 20.9% of the collected bottles converted into recycled material.

What’s Wrong with Incinerating Plastic Waste in the U.S.?

First, incineration is not material recovery, it is material destruction. The plastic waste material is burned into CO2 and water and the heat generated is used to make steam which generates power. While the facilities are called “Waste-to-Energy”, their primary purpose is to destroy material and decrease the volume of waste sent to landfills.  But a significant volume of toxic ash containing heavy me
tals remains when municipal waste is burned – about 10% – 15% of the original volume of waste – and it must be managed and disposed of as a hazardous waste. All but one of the 75 municipal waste incineration facilities in the U.S. were built before 1997 and have had to add pollution controls to address air emissions of heavy metals, SOx and NOx.  Yet concerns of the health impacts from the remaining toxic air emissions and truck traffic is driving the shutdown of some facilities, such as the incinerator in Detroit that exceeded air pollution standards on hundreds of occasions over the past several years. From a climate change perspective, burning plastic is not a smart way to make power. Since a large amount of energy was used and carbon was emitted to make the plastic resin in the first place, the power generated from burning plastic has a higher lifecycle carbon footprint than renewable energy or power generated from natural gas combustion.

What are Proven Solutions to Reduce Plastic Pollution?

The estimated 2% U.S. domestic plastic recycling rate in 2018 should be a wake-up call to the false promise that the existing voluntary, economic-driven U.S. recycling system is a credible solution to plastic pollution. It’s time to implement real solutions to plastic pollution, particularly the reduction of single use plastics in “on-the-go” situations that have the highest likelihood of polluting our environment.

Bans on plastic bags, straws and EPS foam containers: Many single-use plastic items are made of low-value material that makes them widely available but economically impractical to collect and recycle.  When there are reusable alternatives or better materials available, the best solution is to eliminate the items from use. Plastic straws, plastic bags and EPS foam food containers quickly fall into the better-to-eliminate category, as described in the Ban 2.0 List.

Legislative action to restrict single use plastic bag distribution has resulted in a reduction of plastic bag pollution around the world:

  • United Kingdom and Ireland: According to a 25-year study from the United Kingdom government’s Center for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, there are significantly fewer plastic bags on the seafloor after European countries introduced bag fees.  The study was based on 39 independent scientific surveys of the distribution and abundance of marine litter between 1992 and 2017.

  • Suffolk County, New York:  The number of bags found polluting shorelines fell steeply in the first year after a 5-cent bag fee was enacted.

  • Austin, Texas: the Austin Resource Recovery study found that the Single Use Bag Ordinance was successful in reducing the amount of plastic bag litter in the city. Austin Parks Foundation reported a 90% reduction in plastic bag litter in the first six months after the ordinance had been passed.  (Austin and other local bag ordinances in Texas have since been nullified due to a Texas Supreme Court decision).

  • San Jose, California: Plastic bag litter was cut by 89% in the storm drain system, 60% in the creeks and rivers, and 59% in city streets just 1-2 years after a single-use plastic bag ban took effect.

  • Washington, D.C.: The Washington Post reported about a 30 percent drop in bags collected in cleanups.

  • Folly Beach, South Carolina: Fewer plastic bags found in beach cleanups after plastic bag ban was enacted.

Driven by the motive to reduce plastic pollution and plastic waste generation, over 300 U.S. cities and a few states have passed plastic bag, straw and EPS foam ordinances. The National Coalition of Environmental Legislators (NCEL) reports that 34 states are now considering over 200 pieces of legislation to address plastic pollution. Legislation toolkits for communities and states to create ordinances to restrict or ban plastic items have been developed by Surfrider, Plastic Pollution Coalition and others.

Water refill stations and deposits on plastic beverage bottles: The best strategy to cut plastic beverage bottle pollution is to make it easy for people to use fewer disposable bottles and to ensure that no bottle is left behind.

Public water refill stations are key to decreasing single use plastic water bottle consumption.  Cities and their water agencies benefit from installing water refill stations which offer a filling function in addition to a drinking fountain.  People are provided with free sources of high-quality drinking water and plastic waste is decreased. For example, Eastern Municipal Water District in Southern California has installed nearly 120 water bottle fill stations at schools and popular community facilities.

Container deposit laws (also known as bottle bills) require the collection of a deposit on beverage containers at the point of sale and refund the deposit when the container is returned.  Like plastic bag bans, container deposit laws have also been proven to cut down on plastic beverage bottle pollution.  According to NCEL, ten states and Guam have a deposit-refund system for beverage containers.

Beverage companies should support container deposit laws if they are serious about delivering on their recycled content promises. While beverage companies and their trade associations have fought bottle bills in the past, plastic recycling experts have stated that container deposit laws are needed to collect sufficient used PET bottles to meet the company goals for recycled content.  An industry expert analyzed recycle rates and clearly states in this November 13, 2018 Amcor podcast that voluntary and curbside recycling will not collect sufficient PET bottle material.

What are we waiting for?

Another half of a dump truck of U.S. plastic waste entered the ocean in the ten minutes it took to read this article.  Proven solutions that will reduce U.S. plastic pollution exist and can be swiftly enacted. The success of plastic bag bans and plastic container deposit laws can be extended nationwide and to other most commonly polluted plastic items: EPS foam and other plastic food containers, plastic straws, plastic bottle caps, plastic lids and plastic food wrappers.

It’s time to accept what the facts tell us: plastic recycling is not a serious or realistic solution to reducing plastic pollution in the United States.

____________________________________________________________________________________

Jan Dell, PE, is an independent chemical engineer and founder of The Last Beach Cleanup, a non-profit organization that collaborates with shareholders and environmental groups on initiatives to reduce plastic pollution. Jan has worked with companies in diverse industries to implement sustainable business and climate resiliency practices in more than 40 countries. Appointed by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, Jan was a member of the US Federal Committee that led the 3rd National Climate Assessment from 2010 to 2014 and the Vice Chair of the US Federal Advisory Committee on the Sustained National Climate Assessment in 2016-2017.

[1] Extrapolation of Jambeck, et al data to 2019 and assumes large dump truck capacity of 28,000 pounds.

For more information, visit GAIA – The Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives.

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Take the pledge – say “no” to single-use plastic.

By Julia Grifferty

Unlike many, I am not in the plastic pollution movement because of a love for the ocean. Though I did grow up beachfront in Abu Dhabi, UAE, I am motivated through personal accountability.

I began to feel accountable for my actions when I was 13. That is when I attended my first Global Issues Conference and learned that the global economy exploits vulnerable communities and risks future generations on this planet. I was forced to look at my own life critically and ask which global issues do I contribute to? Most prominently we were introduced to climate change, an increase in global temperature due to our current source of energy, fossil fuels. I looked into how I use fossil fuels in my own life which starts in a car being driven to school and ends with me being driven back home from school or the mall.

Like most middle schoolers, life comprised of sports practice and hanging out at the mall with my friends to shop and eat. I felt pretty innocent because it was under my parents control whether they drive me to school. I left that conference thinking climate change and environmental degradation was completely the blame of fossil fuel corporations.

I carried this blame into a middle school Green Team meeting about a month later. Before we began, my peers and I were chatting away about the big bad oil companies threatening our future. When my teacher walked in, she told us to quiet down and focused our attention toward the board. She began to play a YouTube video that would change the room’s tone within its first 10 seconds.

The narrator introduces the Story of Bottled Water by saying, “This is a story of a world obsessed with stuff, it’s a story about a system in crisis. We’re trashing the planet, we’re trashing each other, and we’re not even having fun.” Then, Annie Leonard from Greenpeace comes into the frame holding a Fiji water bottle and says, “One of the problems with trying to use less stuff is sometimes we think we really need it.”

In the next 8 minutes my world view is completely turned upside down. I had no idea that the products I consumed also used fossil fuel energy.  

Leonard says: “The problem starts here with extraction, where oil is used to make water bottles. Each year making the plastic water bottles used in the U.S. takes enough oil and energy to fuel a million cars. All that energy to make the bottle, even more to ship it, and then we drink it in about two minutes.”  

I look down at my hand, clutching a half empty bottle of Al-Ain water that I bought 10 minutes ago. Suddenly it becomes clear that I voluntarily implicated myself in the fossil fuel economy. The comments I made about my blamelessness 30 seconds ago seem so naive. I watched the rest of the video going through a roller coaster of emotions.

I’m shocked that a key driver of our materials economy is manufactured demand, and that bottled water companies are manufacturing demand to make me believe it’s cleaner than it is. I’m angered that I was being manipulated by bottled water corporations to pay water for 2000x times tap water through manufactured demand. I feel guilty that I had been buying bottled water every day at lunch for years.   

Before I feel so disparaged, the narrator finishes the story on an upbeat note that inspires me to redeem myself. Among the tangible next steps she recommends I take, the one that sticks with me is ban the purchase of bottled water at my school.

I think to myself, if I explained to my peers that bottled water is a waste of money and we install more water dispensers on campus, all 1000 of us could go without. A ban would just reflect our rejection of fossil fueled habit that is totally unnecessary, unhealthy, and unsustainable. I think back to the memories of the Global Issues Conference earlier that year when a 16 year old boy presented his environmental campaign to rid the city Abu Dhabi of plastic bags. I knew that a young person can rally a community. I knew that a young person could change the status quo. The best way, I realized, was to start with myself.  

So, I spent the next year kicking my habit of buying bottled water at school, at home, at sports practice, and at the mall. By the time the Global Issues Conference 2012 came around, I truly internalized a sense of personal accountability for my impact. So when we discussed ‘faraway’ global issues like poverty and climate change I considered how I was implicated in perpetuating this status quo. When I took a critical look into my daily life I considered the food I ate, the stores the clothes I wear, the products I use to brush my teeth, the technological gadgets I played on, the computer I typed on, the plastic cup I drank a frappuccino out of.  I thought of how these things were made, who made them, how far they traveled, how long I used them for, and in whose community it would end up in.

It became clear that I lived consumerist lifestyle powered by fossil fuels, fed with imported food, hydrated with desalinated water and driven by gas guzzling cars. The most useless habit I blindly took part in was single-use plastic bottles, utensils, bowls, and packaging. My plastic addiction was a perfect example of my consumerism and fossil fuel dependence. Two things that cannot continue for a sustainable world with 7 billion people and rising.

I thought if all my peers and I could kick this habit of single use plastic, maybe we would be open to a larger transformation where we reject a materials economy driven by manufactured demand. That is when I came up with my idea for Boot the Bottle, a campaign advocating for people in the developed world to not be dependent on bottled water as their drinking source but rather using a reusable bottle and a water dispenser. But, I did not tell anyone about it for another two years. Although, in that time I let the idea mature, I created a logo and developed a website. Finally, by 2013, the summer before 10th grade, I felt ready.

I emailed my school’s service coordinator a few days before school started to briefly explain my hope to ban the purchase of bottled water on campus. She responded with, “Yes I LOVE this idea” and immediately all that self-doubt I carried disappeared.  

I realized that my self doubt was irrational. It was a mental manipulation put on me by society in the same way bottled water companies convinced me to make the irrational decision to buy their product every day. At the age of 15 I learned how malleable human behavior is. Society’s preconceived notions that youth are powerless and that consumer behavior reflects consumer demand were concepts that only served the interests of corporations benefiting from the status quo.  

At that moment I fully embraced the message of the three Global Issues Conferences I attended: youth have the agency and responsibility to challenge the status quo for a just and sustainable global society. I also decided I would not limit my notion of achievement by what other youth have achieved.

Why I Engage in the Movements for Climate Justice – This two year long journey in self awareness was a transition from sheltered child to a global citizen ready for social change. It instilled in me a sense of social responsibility to recognize my social and ecological impact on the world and work within my sphere of influence to minimize my footprint. I tell the story of my internal transformation through the video above.

As soon as school started I gathered the leadership of the high school Green Team and pitched my idea. Within 6 months the campaign Boot the Bottle became an official part of my high school’s Green Team; the Superintendent agreed to ban the selling of bottled water from our canteen and cafeteria and install more water dispensers; all 1000 students began bringing reusable bottles to school. In March 2014, I decided to share this campaign with more people.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MBB3EiHIIGE&t=4s

I delivered a TedxYouth talk with a takeaway message that “Booting the bottle will do good for everyone. For us [consumers] it will reduce our monetary loss, reduce our health damage, and for others, it will reduce our carbon footprint and reduce our negative impact on innocent people across the world. Every time you do not buy a plastic water bottle, you are supporting the world’s future.”  

After all students and teachers made the switch, I realized we had excluded a group. The janitors and security guards. These are the folks that stay on campus until late night, cleaning, and protecting our campus. Then they are bussed to a crowded company accommodation on the outskirts of the city. This is when they call their family back home in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Uganda, or the Philippines. They send most of their income home as remittances to support their family. WIth what is left, they spend on food, water, and basic necessities.

Shockingly, 20 percent of their income was being spent on drinking water. Each day they took a taxi (the only transportation that far out) to a corner store ten minutes away from their accommodation to buy jugs of bottled water. Their housing did not have filtered water, only tap. This was both a public health and financial concern because restricted access to affordable drinking water is dangerous in the deadly heat of the desert, especially those doing laborious work outdoors.

As I explained in the Talk, the developed world’s plastic dependency is a social justice issue. It makes cities and people pay a high price for what should be free, threatens communities health and contributes to greenhouse gas emissions in its production, transportation and disposal. Yes, the UAE is a developing country, but it has enough wealth to provide filtered water to everyone.

So, we started the EcoCitizen: Water Project to reduce migrant labor workers’ dependence on bottled water in the UAE by creating systemic access to refillable water and carrier solutions. We did so by installing water dispensers, providing reusable bottles and hosting Eco-Citizen Workshops at housing accommodations.

This made me realize that water is a political statement; who gets access to it, who can afford it, and who owns it speaks to the status of a society. The four year water crisis in Flint, Michigan is a prime example of how drinking water infrastructure is neglected and under funded in places with lower social status. Two hours away in Evart Michigan, the Nestlé corporation pumps 130 million gallons of water for a pathetic price of $200 flat, which it then sells back to Michigan residents at 2000x times the cost of tap water.  Interestingly enough, the CEO of Nestlé does not believe water should be a public right.  This goes against the United Nations declaration that clean drinking water is a human right.  

Clearly, plastic bottled water, climate change, consumerism, and human rights are intertwined issues. For me, refusing single-use plastic was a first step in rejecting an unsustainable future.

If you are a young person who wants to make your community or school plastic free, contact me for any advice at bootthebottle@gmail.com. If you are in the United Arab Emirates or Switzerland, become a DropIt Youth ambassador! You will be joining a community of young people who are making changes in their community. 

More: Abu Dhabi World article “NEWS: Student takes the initiative to promote sustainability in water usage

The National “Jane Goodall inspires students to promote conservationism”and “Environment Champion Jane Goodall returns to the UAE

Bahareh Amidi “Spreading love and light at ladies labor camp

By Joanclair Richter

For years, the entertainment industry has built a model of disposable infrastructure: sets are thrown out, plastic water bottles are used for moments between takes only to be tossed (often not even recycled), and eating arrangements are often “disposable.”

Money is tight, decisions are made quickly, and each set is essentially a temporary office: an environment literally cut-out for single-use plastic. So how does one reduce plastic in these fast-paced, budget driven environments?

From commercial and film sets to more corporate settings and film festivals, MovieMind Green increases sustainability throughout the entertainment industry. A central piece of that is reducing the use of single-use plastic (SUP). Because let’s face it, SUP is destroying our oceans and beyond!

Starting in pre-production (reducing waste from happening in the first place), a green set can significantly reduce the carbon footprint of a production overall. Plus, environmental choices are often an investment rather than a cost. In other words, when a production company begins to implement these practices, the financial gains are sky high.

Where do we start?

  1. It all starts with communication. Telling people what to do, or showing up on set as the “green police” is simply ineffective. When people feel that they are part of something, the camaraderie and excitement begins. When the options are obviously laid out and therefore easy to make QUICKLY, why not make the environmentally friendly choice? So signage is key – clear, concise, to the points, not preachy. When people know that they are helping to protect their planet with the choices they are making at work – generally, it’s a win-win. In other words, set up an invitation to take part, connect and be a team player rather than a mandate and a police force.

  2. Water is a human right. Yes, we need it. No, we don’t need it in plastic. Plastic water bottles are a concept that can be gone over a million times and never understood. If a set has taken the time to supply their cast and crew with reusables stainless steel water bottles and water stations, but there is still a case of single-use water bottles being bought in a bind, it isn’t working! Plus, as Director Josh Soskin’s point goes: a set with no plastic water bottles is prettier. So I’ve given you an answer: but an answer that requires research and potentially a bigger budget. Research? Call MovieMind Green. Budget? Cheaper. The budget line savings potential for switching to reusables and water stations is 51 percent (Green Production Guide).

  3. Everybody’s got to eat! On a set, often meals are taken to-go. Maybe shooting is still going on and the director can’t get away for lunch. There are compostables for that situation, sure. And the price difference there is negligible and the options are extensive. (Note: industrial composting is necessary for some of these compostable products.) BUT EVEN MORE – take a second to dream with us of a set where each person has their own plate and set of utensils they bring with them. Set up dishwashing stations and make it a team effort. And that won’t be a dream for long because it IS THE SOLUTION. In the meantime, most catering companies can supply reusable plates and utensils. The savings is on the environment, as we divert waste from the landfill. What about craftie? That station where people can fill up on coffee or grab a snack. Snacks are a nightmare. Chip bags are generally not recyclable. Buy in bulk. Get a giant bin of pretzels – put out a bowl and tongs.

  4. Waste Preventing plastic from arriving on set = less plastic to haul away = smaller waste bill. This is a huge win for the bottom line and the environment.

  5. On Screen Talking about what goes on screen can be touchy – solution? If you can start the conversation without offending anyone creatively, do! Be very careful to not get involved in the story. Can the character carry a stainless steel water bottle rather than a plastic bottle in the shot? The moving image and the entertainment industry has an incredible impact on the way every person sees their own life and their own choices.

People ask why MovieMind Green’s work focuses on the entertainment industry. Beyond love for the medium, we appreciate the audience size, the breadth and the reach that movies have to all parts of the world. Between all the languages and demographics – a message in this industry is priceless. The questions now is whether this industry that has such an influence can show a clean and green method from office to production, both on and off the screen.

Joanclair Richter is the founder and president of MovieMind Green, a Plastic Pollution Coalition member business.

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