Just say no to single-use plastics | Moment's Notice

By Maria A. Montalvo | Dec 07, 2018

Two years ago to the day, this column recounted the tale of an 8-year-old indignantly challenging a group of adult beach cleanup volunteers (including myself) to take the 30-day Single-Use Plastic (or SUP) Challenge. We had not heard of it then, but she made sure we remembered.

As coincidences happen, just days ago I met Annie Crowley, the creator of the 30-Day SUP Challenge, at the Seattle Aquarium. We were both there in support of the announcement of a statewide plastic bag ban to be proposed in the state Legislature in 2019.

(Full disclosure: The bill is sponsored by my husband, Rep. Strom Peterson, and Senator Kevin Ranker).

Crowley lives in Edmonds now, and is still trying to shine a light on the ecological impacts of plastics. Plastic bags, like so much of the single-use plastic in modern life, is used once and throw away, with catastrophic results.

Annie listened as I told her the same story so many had before, that I had painstakingly attempted to follow the 30-Day Challenge rules – taking a reusable coffee cup on trips, not buying individual-size anything, carrying around a fork – but it is basically impossible to succeed.

She fully understood that the 30-Day Challenge is an untenable task in today’s society, but the point is to become more aware of how in a few short decades we have become utterly reliant on individually and plastic-packaged everything.

The outcomes of skyrocketing use of plastics is clear – too much trash that never breaks down that is costing us in innumerable ways. It is important to remember that this pervasive presence of SUP is new. The first plastic grocery bag was introduced in 1979, and they were relatively unpopular.

In 1985, Mobil, one of the main producers of plastic bags, initiated a national campaign that took the market share of plastic bags from 25 percent in the 1980s to more than 80 percent in 1995. After that, food packaging was targeted, and plastics became ubiquitous in supermarkets.

Plastic in its current form was not fully developed until the 1960s.

One reason is because plastic is brittle and basically insoluble in water. Thus, to use it, scientists have to use additives to bend it to our will, many of which have been found to be toxic. In the last 10 years, we and much of the Western world began banning many additives, especially in toys, child and health-care items, food packaging, etc.

Yet despite recognition of the toxicity, we seem unable or unwilling to make the connection to the plastic we use every day and how it is dangerous to us.

Very little of our plastic, and especially SUP and small plastics, can be effectively recycled or reused. It takes hundreds of years for a plastic bag to break down, and even then, as it decomposes, tiny toxic bits seep into soils, lakes, rivers, and the oceans (and into the fish we eat and other organisms on the food chain).

There are more than 8 million metric tons of plastics going into the oceans every year (adding to the 86 million metric tons already there). The plastic trash going into the ocean is equivalent to dumping a truck-load of plastic every minute.

There will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050, according to the Ellen McCarthur Foundation.

We are smart enough to retain the efficiencies and safety of plastic, reduce our dependence on petroleum, try to save the fish population (and the industries that rely on it), and protect our water quality. Limit plastic use to where it is necessary, not inherently causing damage that we soon will not be able to reverse.

Two years ago, a young girl tried to teach us that nothing we use for a few minutes should impact our planet for centuries. We need to dare to be slightly inconvenienced and realize we have accepted the costly impacts of a very successful marketing campaign.

It is time to take the SUP 30-Day Challenge again and make it as permanent as possible.


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