Ditch Your Plastic This World Ocean’s Day!

June 8 is World Ocean’s Day! Kate Daniels Kurz, Executive Editor of The WIP, recently sat down with Sarah-Mae Nelson, Climate Change Interpretive Specialist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  Nelson has been plastic free for over three years. 

Plastics degrade in quality every time they are recycled, but they cannot be broken down into their most basic elements, meaning that they never go away and we keep producing more of them. More often than not, plastics are simply thrown away, making their way into the waterways and eventually into the ocean. Along the way, the plastics become smaller and smaller (they can be as small as a single molecule), making them ever easier for animals to ingest. These plastics cannot be passed through most digestive tracts, meaning that they fill up the stomach, eventually leaving no room for actual foods or water, killing the animal. Plastics are also extremely fat-soluble. Nelson believes that each and every person has some amount of plastic in their liver because it is easily ingested through drinking water and foods.

This tube contains plastic found in the stomach of one Laysan Albatross carcass. ©Monterey Bay Aquarium, photo by Randy Wilder.

This tube contains plastic found in the stomach of one Laysan Albatross carcass. ©Monterey Bay Aquarium, photo by Randy Wilder.

Plastics present a huge problem, and one that policy-makers are not helping to solve. Manufacturing plastic requires oil, so multi-billion dollar oil and gas companies are highly motivated to push plastic-friendly legislation. In fact, Nelson was surprised to learn that it is legally impossible to live plastic-free, but stresses that it is still possible to cut out most of it with a little effort.

In addition to limiting individual plastic consumption, several cities have taken small steps to reduce the amount of plastic used everywhere. Municipal plastic bag bans do have significant effect on overall ocean health. These laws are a positive first step, but governments need to feel pressure from citizens to change the laws that require plastics and enact laws that ban plastics whenever possible.

Furthermore, significant social change is paramount. Degraded recycles plastics are still usable for making fibers. Many clothing and carpeting companies use these fibers to make their products, but they are more expensive than conventional products. Since plastic is associated with a cheap product, it is very difficult to convince customers it is worth it to invest in these products, even though they are actually of a very high quality.

To learn more about the effects of plastics on the environment (and which sneaky products contain them), check out The World Without Us.

This interview was produced by Timothy Barrett in conjunction with Monterey Peninsula College Library. 

- Kirstin Kelley, Assistant Editor

katharine danielsAbout the Host: Kate Daniels Kurz is the founder and Director of The WIP. Her vision is of a world where women and men value and embrace the feminine perspective for global problem solving. Katharine believes that it is through women that solutions to issues from the gravest human rights injustices to the severest effects of climate change, war, and poverty can be found.

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4 comments on “Ditch Your Plastic This World Ocean’s Day!
  1. Sarah-Mae Nelson says:

    Many thanks to Kate, Timothy and Evening Insight for the opportunity to share about this issue that is so important to the planet.

    Kudos to San Francisco that recently passed a ban on plastic water bottles that goes into effect in 2018!

  2. Hal Campbell says:

    I full support the idea of reducing and eliminating plastics in our lives. One thorny area is food purchinasing. Even healthy grocery stores like Trader Joes have so many of their fresh vegetables wrapped in plastic not to mention all the dry foods from nuts to spaghetti noodles. We have reusable bags to carry food home but how do you get around buying foods not in plastic?

  3. Katharine Daniels says:

    Sarah-Mae, maybe you can share some ideas with Hal. I find Trader Joe’s a very difficult store to shop at if sustainability is your goal. The amount of plastic containers they use as well as the distance some of the fish and meat they sell travels, is difficult to stomach. Thank you for your comment, Hal. I agree!

  4. Sarah-Mae Nelson says:

    Hal (and others who are curious),

    I purchase much of my food in bulk, from farmer’s markets or local Community Supported Agriculture programs. I bring my own container’s to the store or market, the cashier provides a tare for my container and I fill it and take it home. I have spent quite a bit of time looking for products that do not have plastic packaging—there are a few brands out there that use boxes, waxed paper, glass, aluminum or stainless steel, and these are the ones I support with my dollars.

    I’ve learned to make many things on my own—granola bars, pasta, chips, crackers—and I purchase plastic-free ingredients for them. I also have worked with friends to purchase entire cheese wheels that we share between us to get around plastic wrap.

    I do my best to write letters and comment cards to stores to let them know what is working and what needs to be changed. Markets only respond to our demand if we tell them it’s a demand. For instance, there are several recent law in Europe that have eliminated much unnecessary packaging materials. The laws were made because citizen’s demanded it. We need to send a stronger market signal in some cases.

    I personally choose not to shop at Trader Joe’s and have submitted numerous requests for them to eliminate unnecessary plastic packaging. I vote with my dollars by not giving them to a company that does not support my values and concerns.

    It’s about making the choice. It’s not always the easiest action to take, but the choice changes you. Once you’ve changed, other things start to follow.

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