By Nichole Baldwin

We throw away enough plastic in one year to wrap around the earth four times.  The average American throws away about 185 pounds of plastic every year; that includes our consumption of bottled water which is at an astounding 35 billion plastic bottles.  In the last decade, Americans have produced more plastic than during the entire last century!  Plastic counts as over 10% of the total waste generated and in White Pine County, we currently only recycle 3% of that waste!

Plastic pollution is causing major problems in our oceans. There are billions and billions of pounds of plastic found in swirling convergences in the oceans which make up 40% of the world’s ocean surfaces.  Some patches the size of Texas have been found and record numbers of giant whales have washed ashore with plastic blocking their intestines.  Once plastic hits the ocean, it breaks down into small segments and can end up scattered for miles along beaches worldwide.  Half of plastic can float, so 90% of all floating trash is plastic. This is about 46,000 pieces of plastic per square mile of ocean surface.  Plastic kills one million sea birds and 100,000 marine mammals per year.  Taking up to 1000 years to decompose, the first plastic created is still on the earth today.

Plastics aren’t just killing our oceans and its animals, it is also polluting lakes, rivers, and aquafers near you! Do you use the toothpaste with the fancy beads in it to make your teeth whiter? Or how about the body scrub with the tiny scrubbies? What about the face wash with the bright exfoliating beads in the soap? These tiny plastic microbeads end up going down our drain and slip through waste water treatment plants and end up in our waterways.  Why does this pose such a problem? Plastics absorb pollutants such as pesticides and motor oil and end up more toxic than the water around it.  Fish mistake microbeads for food and they eat them, building up toxins in their bodies.  We go fishing and feed our families with these fish!  Documented health effects include cellular necrosis, inflammation and lacerations in the digestive tract, liver toxicity, and disruption of the endocrine system.

Are you wondering what you can do to protect the environment and humanity yet? I hope so.  Choose to reuse and recycle! Use cloth bags or metal and glass reusable bottles and jars.  Carry reusable utensils in your purse or car and refuse single-serving packaging whenever possible.  Try reusable containers instead of sandwich bags and juice cartons.  Get coffee or smoothies in your favorite travel mug instead of what you buy your beverage in. Refuse to buy products with microbeads. Recycle – and look for containers commonly accepted for recycling (#1(PETE) or #2(HDPE) imprinted on the bottom).  You can also volunteer to do community clean-ups.  Support plastic bag bans and legislation out to support recycling.  Last, but not least, spread the word; talk about the importance of recycling with your friends and family and educate them of the nasty impacts of plastic pollution.