We always knew that the fight to eliminate all single-use plastics was never going to be an easy one. In spite of plastic’s relatively very short time of use, it can remain on the face of the planet for thousands of years – never breaking down. Even though we are aware of the fact that plastic really never “goes away,” it has become a ubiquitous part of our everyday lives and as a result, it has caused some serious damage. In the past 30 years alone, global plastic production has jumped 620 percent, equating to about 300 million tons of plastic materials that come into circulation annually. 85 percent of those 300 million tons of plastic is never recycled — it’s sent to landfills and from there, it ends up in our oceans. The type of plastic we throw away covers a wide spectrum of products, many of which we come into contact with on a daily basis: utensils, the lids of our to-go coffee cups, plastic straws, plastic cups, bottles, and a whole slew of different packaging. Let’s not forget about plastic bags. It’s estimated that 60,000 single-use plastic bags are used every five seconds — and that’s if we’re only talking about the United States. Worldwide, we use 100 billion plastic bags, most of which end up in the oceans where they tempt marine life like sea turtles and other animals who eat jellyfish.
Cutting single-use plastic bags out of our everyday lives is easy; reusable totes are so easy to come by that most grocery stores now offer them at the register, right next to candy. In some places, like California, England, France, and many communities throughout the United States, the government has actively banned plastic bags or at least, have imposed a small fee on anyone who forgot their reusable bag at home. That makes sense. But recently, Michigan’s government made a move that has us scratching out heads and asking “huh?” Last week, Michigan Lt. Gov. Brian Calley signed Bill No. 853 into effect, which “preempt[s] local ordinances regulating the use, disposition, or sale of, prohibiting or restricting, or imposing any fee, charge, or tax on certain containers.” In layman’s terms, no local government in Michigan is legally allowed to ban plastic bags as well as cups, bottles, and other forms of single-use packaging.
This is especially frustrating, considering the huge plastic problem currently facing the Great Lakes. According to a recent study conducted by the Rochester Institute of Technology, there are over 22 million pounds of plastic floating on the surface of the Great Lakes. Of course, all that plastic in the water doesn’t just float around — it gets broken down into debris known as microplastic, which ends up on the shores of Michigan, and in the bellies of fish. Another study revealed that plastic was found in the stomachs of 18 out of 18 fish species sampled from the Great Lake region. Naturally, this plastic doesn’t just stay with the fishes – it gets shared with all the people and animals who consume those fish. While there is little information available about the impact that consuming this plastic has on either party, we can’t imagine it isn’t good – especially since the toxicity of carcinogenic compounds typically increases as they move up the food chain.
Had Michigan’s government banned, or at least placed a tax on single-use plastics, they could have effectively combated the pollution problem in the Great Lakes. In England, for example, the BBC reported that one year after the plastic bag tax was enacted, plastic waste in the ocean surrounding the islands fell by 40 percent. But instead, the state government has opted to ban any future bans … they might as well just start eating those plastic bags directly (sorry, we’re not).
Plastic is tough to avoid, but it’s not impossible. By doing something as simple as making the switch from single-use plastic bags to reusable totes, you can reduce your plastic consumption.
As the leading organization at the forefront of the conscious consumerism movement, One Green Planet believes that reducing everyday plastics from our lives is not about giving up anything or sacrificing convenience, but rather learning to reap the maximum benefit from the items you use every day while having the minimum impact.
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