Going for Green in Lyons
By Kathleen Thurmes
Every year on April 22, we celebrate Earth Day. We should be treating our planet kindly every day of the year, but Earth Day presents an extra opportunity for us to pause and reflect on the impacts that we have on the earth and the opportunities we have for creating positive change.
This year’s Earth Day theme was “End Plastic Pollution,” according to the Earth Day Network. Over the past couple years there’s been an uptick in media coverage about
how plastic pollution is damaging our oceans and coastal communities. There have also been new reports out with alarming statistics about how much plastic is in our oceans and about plastic waste generally. Below, you’ll find some of these facts.
• By 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish (by weight) if current trends continue.
• Plastic packaging currently accounts for 26% of plastics use, and plastic packaging is mostly not recyclable or compostable.
• The use of plastics has increased twenty-fold in the past 50 years, yet only nine percent of plastics made since 1950 have been recycled.
• Plastics production is expected to double in the next 20 years and nearly quadruple by 2050.
• The equivalent of one garbage truck full of plastic is dumped into our oceans every single minute, more than 8 million metric tons per year.
• Only about 50 percent of plastics could be recovered using the best systems available today. Manufacturers continue to churn out countless plastics without creating end markets for recycling or reuse.
• Plastic is made from derivatives of fossil fuels.
We’re on the brink of seeing $164 billion invested in new petrochemical refineries and other facilities in the U.S. in the next few years, much of which will be used to make plastics.
If we don’t think that our plastic situation is bad enough to take action yet, it’s only going to get worse. The images we’re seeing of sea turtles with plastic straws in their noses and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch will be just the beginning.
Let’s pause here to acknowledge that plastic has played an integral role in many advancements in medicine, safety, and technology. Let’s also acknowledge that some of these plastic-demanding advancements do not yet have non-plastic alternatives. However, we must also start to also acknowledge the consequences that our out-of-control plastics addiction has on our health and environment.
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation put forth a vision for a New Plastics Economy which advocates incorporating a three-pronged approach to addressing the global plastics crisis: aggressive recycling, innovation and redesign, and replacement of plastic items with reusable alternatives wherever possible.
One thing that is clear is that we will never be able to recycle our way out the plastic pollution problem. So while recycling is part of the solution, and it may be the easiest part, it’s becoming increasingly clear that recycling alone is not enough to solve our problem. We must instead work on moving toward a circular economy, where objects are designed to be repurposed at the end of their lifetime and we prioritize making as much use out of our limited resources as possible.