Earth Day! Clean up the Plastic!

Ocean waters are getting clogged with plastic. Considering the vastness of our oceans, the thought of ocean waters full of plastic, endangering fish and wildlife, is almost incomprehensible, but there is abundant photographic evidence showing that it is happening and it’s worse than we could imagine. The northern Pacific Ocean, from the west coast of the U.S. and Canada, all the way to Asia, is sometimes referred to as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Unfortunately, that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Plastic pollution is everywhere and, unfortunately, it seems that many people just don’t give a darn.

Chances are that every time you leave home and drive down a street you’ll find some plastic litter. It might be a water bottle or soft drink bottle. It might be a grocery bag. It might be an old toy, or the plastic bubble packaging the toy came in, not to mention the plastic bag in which someone carried it home from the store.

The synthetic fiber clothes you wear, when washed, shed microscopic plastic fibers that end up in our waters, often in the water that comes out of your household faucets.

The proliferation of plastic waste and the resulting environmental damage is the theme of this year’s Earth Day, which takes place this Sunday, April 22, the 48th anniversary of the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970.

The first Earth Day was the brainchild of the late Wisconsin Senator, Gaylord Nelson, and began as a national “teach-in” to educate students on university campuses on environmental issues. That first Earth Day, and subsequent action, led to passage of environmental legislation, such as the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act.

Since then, Earth Day has become an international event, mobilizing people around the world to get active in doing something about environmental problems. Earth Day organizers call it the largest secular observance in the world, observed by over a billion people annually.

Obviously, it’s hard for an individual or a family to make a significant difference in a worldwide problem, though that’s where we have to start.

A quick and easy thing to do is to cut down on the amount of plastics that we use and then throw away. For example, don’t buy bottled water. Bottled water is a scam. There is no reason for most people, barring some places where municipal water supplies are compromised, to buy bottled water. If you’re going on an outing and want water, take a steel or aluminum reusable water bottle and fill it up from your faucet.

Avoid use of single-use plastic bags, the plastic bags from grocery stores and big box retailers. Take your own reusable shopping bags. If you do have plastic shopping bags, take them back to the grocery store or big box store for recycling. Tell local and state lawmakers to push for legislation to ban plastic shopping bags. The State of California banned plastic bags two years ago, and over 200 counties and municipalities across the U.S. have banned plastic shopping bags.

This is too obvious, but all too hard to make happen, but don’t litter. That means don’t litter, and you tell your friends and family to not litter. If you’re on your way home from a fast food place, don’t throw your garbage on the streets. Dispose of things properly. If you’re out for a walk, take a bag along with you and pick up those aluminum cans and plastic bottles that are seemingly everywhere.

Recycle your plastics and other recyclable waste. Unfortunately, here in Butte, this is going to be a challenge now that AWARE Inc., is getting out of the recycling business. This will be a serious challenge for Butte-Silver Bow, to develop a means to get all that plastic waste off our streets and out of our city landfill.

There are lots more tips for dealing with the plastics crisis from Earth Day organizers. They’re on the web at www.earthday.org.

Alas, the challenges are greater than the helpful tips, but that’s nothing new.

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