It took one bag. One plastic bag being blown about by the wind in the parking lot of the grocery store for me to realize that our world was covered in plastic. As I entered the grocery store, armed with my reusable bags, I always thought that I was doing enough to combat pollution. But what I had never given a second thought to before was the produce section. There were singular pieces of produce wrapped in plastic, and plastic bags for people to put their lettuce and broccoli and other veggies into so they could carry them home. There were bagged salads, bagged carrots, and herbs already cut up and placed into plastic containers. I hadn’t even made it out of the section and I had realized that my fight against plastic pollution could not be stopped with my dinky reusable shopping bags.
I began having an existential crisis. Here I am, in one grocery store of three in my town. If one grocery store possesses so much plastic within it, how much plastic does the entire grocery store industry use and create? Now I am really freaking out. Plastic never goes away. We might throw it out into the garbage can, but it never leaves our planet. Plastic photodegrades. It breaks down into smaller pieces over time, but all of the toxins and chemicals remain in the environment, even if you cannot see the plastic pieces. The Salem Press Encyclopedia of Science states that the smaller pieces of plastic are called micro plastics, and they remain in the environment for 1000 years. So right now, every piece of plastic ever made still exists. What scares me is that plastic has been found all over the world. It is contaminating our oceans, our forests, and even rocks.
Patricia Corcoran and Kelly Jazvac of the University of Western Ontario, and Charles Moore of the Algalita Marine Research Institute on Kamilo Beach on the island of Hawaii discovered multiple formations of a new material, plastiglomerate. Plastiglomerate is a material composed of a combination of “basalt, coral, shells, and local woody debris [that] are cemented with grains of sand in a plastic matrix,” (p. 6). Pieces of toxic plastic are becoming a part of our natural landscape. Imagine all of the people who are enjoying their time on the beach and are unaware of all of the toxins that they are being exposed to. The researchers highlight the fact that these plastiglomerate fragments are formed when people burn plastic in their fires on Kamilo Beach. The majority of the plastic fragments found in plastiglomerate during the study is from confetti, netting/rope/fishing line, plastic containers and packaging. Humans brought plastic to the beach, and not only is it polluting the beach, but it is being engrained into the natural land scape through anthropogenic actions. This means that human actions are the reason that our world is covered in toxic plastics.
Back to the produce section in my town now, why does one department have so much plastic? If I purchase items in plastic here, I must be contributing to the plastic pollution throughout the world Wait! What is a singular cucumber doing on a Styrofoam plate and wrapped in plastic wrap?! This is unsustainable. There have to be at least a dozen cucumbers atop a Styrofoam plate in this store. Imagine how many Styrofoam plates there are throughout the country. Not every recycling facility will accept Styrofoam, and not every person recycles Styrofoam anyways. There must be so much Styrofoam sitting in landfills throughout the world, for at least another 1000 years.
Theresa Evans, from Onondaga County Recourse Recovery Association (OCRRA), explains that Styrofoam is not always accepted because it depends on contracts that the waste management company has with companies to take recyclables. These companies are often in China because they have better facilities for recycling products. A person’s waste management company dictates what a person can or cannot recycle.
Plastic bags are rarely accepted in general recycling programs because they damage the machines. Evans stated that almost every day plastic bags interfere with the machines and organization of recyclable materials. Plastic bags can be recycled; they just have to be taken to a certain drop off location, like a grocery store, for them to be taken to a special recycling facility.
Fortunately there are solutions to some of the problems associated with unregulated recycling policies that can be done right in the grocery store. Choose to only purchase items that can be recycled with your waste management company. Paper and cardboard are recyclable staples. They can be recycled just about everywhere. So what you and I can do is, we can only purchase items that come in cardboard or paper. Instead of buying sliced bread already in a plastic bag, we can buy it at a bakery where it is sold in paper bags. We can choose to not buy produce wrapped in plastic wrap, and bring our own bags to transport them in, and pressure companies to design packaging that is not toxic and does not pollute our environment. Within one department of one store, there are so many opportunities to choose plastic and pollute the environment, but this just means that there are just as many opportunities to refuse plastic and reduce the amount of waste that one person produces.
Corcoran, P. L., Moore, C. J., & Jazvac, K. (2014). An Anthropogenic Marker Horizon in the Future Rock Record. GSA Today, 24(6), 4-8. Retrieved February 19, 2017, from http://www.geosociety.org/gsatoday/archive/24/6/article/i1052-5173-24-6-...