When we celebrated Earth Day last month (April 22), it brought back memories of my first Earth Day celebration in 1970.
It was an optimistic time, but I never guessed that it would become an annual event—a yearly reminder of the need to do our small part to preserve the health of our planet. And none of us had a clue how much damage mankind would impart upon the earth in the upcoming five decades.
“One word: plastics!” This was the career advice that a middle-aged neighbor gave Dustin Hoffman in the 1967 movie The Graduate.
I’m sure people made their fortune producing and marketing the popular man-made substance. But no one back then could have imagined the devastating consequence to our environment. It’s no wonder that the 2018 Earth Day theme was End Plastic Pollution.
Plastics have benefited mankind for decades, offering durable inexpensive products, including toys, office supplies, tools, food storage containers, construction materials, innovative fabrics, medical supplies, and numerous other items.
The durability of plastic can be useful, but it’s also a curse. For example, the average time for a drink bottle to break down is 450 years, and some can take as long as 1,000 years to decompose. In the US, plastics production accounts for nearly 16% of our municipal waste, filling landfills to problematic levels—25% of hospital waste alone (approximately 106,000 tons annually) is made of plastic.
Worldwide, over 300 million tons of plastics are produced every year, and 10% of it ends up in the ocean. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a floating collection of mostly plastic trash midway between Hawaii and California, now covers an area of 600,000 square miles. That’s twice the size of Texas and only one of five large masses floating in our oceans.
Plastics in our waterways and oceans are killing wildlife in enormous numbers through ingestion or entanglement. Carcasses of sea birds and marine life have been found with their intestines clogged with dozens of plastic items.
As durable and inert as most plastics appear, it doesn’t prevent them from adding toxic chemicals to our environment. Many of our food containers leach neurotoxins into our foods only to end up in our bodies. BPA, linked to cancer, infertility, and diabetes, is just one of these dangerous substances.
Another problem stems from microfibers from our clothes. Every time we wash our synthetic fabrics, fibers are released into the drainage water. Millions of these tiny filaments eventually make their way through our rivers and streams to the sea where they are ingested by fish and other marine life, causing damage to aquatic species as well as those of us who eat them.
Sorry for all the doom and gloom, but awareness is the first step to taking action—and preserving our planet for future generations demands action now. I find it embarrassing as an American to be one of the only countries on the planet not involved in the Paris Climate Agreement.
There is some good news, however. Teams of scientists, inventors, and conservationists are hard at work, looking for solutions to all our environmental problems. In spite of the lack of commitment from many of our leaders here in the US, some countries take science and these planetary threats seriously.
Europe has been a leader in regard to sound ecological practices for some time. The European Union’s strategy is aimed at making all EU plastic packaging recyclable by 2030. Plastic bags have been banned in many European countries, and France is the first country to ban plastic plates, cups, and cutlery.
Sweden has developed a way to convert their trash into energy without polluting the air, using a process that provides heat and electricity for their citizens. In fact, only 1% of their waste ends up in the landfill, and they have become so proficient at recycling, they have a trash shortage—causing them to import trash from other countries.
Numerous technologies have been developed, aimed at removing floating trash in the sea and combating microfiber pollution. The Ocean Cleanup is aimed at containing and cleaning up the five large garbage patches in an optimistic five-year period, starting with the Pacific patch this summer.
There’s also a coastal cleanup project that started 30 years ago and has grown to include 100 countries. September 15, 2018, is designated as International Coastal Cleanup Day.
Springtime reminds us of the miracle of our surroundings. As we watch trees green up and explode with blossoms and delight with the first flower blooms popping from the earth, it should serve as a reminder how lucky we are to live on this beautiful planet.
With so much beauty to behold, how can we not be inspired to preserve this precious gift.
What can you do to help?
Enjoy the summer, everyone!
It's coming soon!
The abridged audio version of my award-winning book, Groovin’: Horses, Hopes, and Slippery Slopes will be available by mid-June. Now you'll get to listen to my wacky stories, including my horseback adventure through the Rocky Mountains.
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