We’ve all heard the troubling statistics about the global plastic crisis: “Shoppers worldwide are using approximately 500 billion single-use plastic bags per year” and “It is predicted there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050,” not to mention the thousands of entangled animals and communities that are impacted by plastic pollution. Feelings of hopelessness and overwhelm can easily take over.
So what can we do? Rather than allow fear to petrify us, we have the ability to claim our power and dream a more beautiful future, for ourselves and future generations. Whether we know it or not, the “global plastic crisis” can be a grand opportunity for humanity.
We can all make imaginative efforts towards a more beautiful future. Yes, it’s true that huge corporations have a vast amount of power when it comes to plastic, along with other issues regarding North America’s capitalistic culture. Though, we the people, the consumers, the dreamers also hold enormous potential to create healing transformation, if realized.
In this article, I will present a few signposts that will hopefully inspire you to realize the possibilities of how to handle the immense amount of plastic in our world, for the benefit of all.
Rethink. If we desire to be radical, that is— to look to the root of plastic pollution, we must look to the fossil fuel industries. These industries profit from producing a seemingly endless stream of single use plastics which often cause the most harm to disadvantaged communities and ecosystems. At the moment, our power lies in making the choice to whether or not we want to support these giants. Some don’t have a choice, as essential needs are often wrapped in plastic/gasoline, but if we have the ability, we can make more empowered choices, e.g. choosing to purchase bulk foods in paper or our own bags rather than foods wrapped in plastics, and choosing to take public transport, bike, or walk vs. a personal car. The more of us that “rethink,” the more the culture will metamorphose into a more sustainable way of living. Never doubt the power of personal choice.
Reduce. Huge transformation would occur if we all took some time to consider and even write down what is truly essential in our lives. What brings true joy and what can be cut out? Oftentimes, authentic happiness is found when we are able to simplify and usher out what does not serve us. If we thoughtfully considered this, the amount of plastic and “stuff” in general that we could reduce in our lives would be astounding. If we can get a little more creative about alternative, non plastic options, boycott plastic when possible, or realize what we don’t need to purchase in the first place, our collective plastic consumption would decrease tremendously
Reuse. Local Humboldt organizations and businesses have been impactful by reusing plastics in creative ways; seeing trash as treasure.
Plastic Uniquely Recycled (PUR) takes plastic that would have been thrown “away” (mostly from used prescription bottles) and creates beautiful jewelry, buttons, and other accessories that have the potential to lead to educational conversations.
Seaside Weavers recovers used polymer crab rope and weaves “MerMats,” or door mats out of the durable and colorful strands to brighten any front door. The Northcoast Environmental Center organizes annual beach clean ups, and is beginning a new coastal program “Craft for the Coast,” which encourages the community to make pieces of art from found beach trash rather than throwing it in the trash bin, in the hopes that we can find value in what we once considered to be waste. There are endless opportunities for what plastic can be reused and transformed into, from art, to practical items like storage or even earth-bag houses!
Recycle. Recycling is often considered to be “eco-friendly,” while in reality a very small amount of what we put in the recycling bin actually gets recycled. According to the EPA, only 8 percent of discarded plastics were recycled in 2017 in the US, while the rest is sent to landfills, often internationally, or into the environment. Recycling is a complex topic and has shown to not be a viable solution to the overwhelming amount of plastic in our world. To learn more, check out the documentaries The Story of Plastic and Plastic China.
Rejoice. While learning about the reality of plastic, it can feel like a disheartening task to move forward with hope. Though, as a form of respect to our planet, it is important to celebrate all we are given and the opportunity to make a difference with every action we take (since our every action creates a ripple whether we are aware of it or not). To rejoice during our activism, moments of educating, or making different consumer choices will ultimately lead to deeper healing and sustainable outcomes.
(Big gratitude to Julia Butterfly Hill, an activist famous for her 2+ year sit in a redwood in Humboldt, for adding Rethink and Rejoice to the popular “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” dictum).
Looking at the plastic pollution in our world as an opportunity for humanity will likely allow deeper change than if we only perceive a daunting crisis. An opportunity opens the door for innovation, imagination, and possibilities that were unnoticed before. Of course true change will not occur until corporations and fossil fuel industries are held accountable and create immediate transitions away from oil and plastic in order to build a sustainable and equitable society. Though, the rest of us must feel empowered to elicit transformation, as we cannot depend on these business models to generate the healing we are seeking as a culture. May we all remember— our actions create ripples, even as one, and especially as a community.
About the author:
Anneke is enthusiastic about shifting the perspective about plastic pollution from a stance of hopelessness to a state of empowerment. She has written her college Honors Thesis on plastic’s impact on the ocean, with a focus on marine animal entanglements within fishing gear on the California Coastline, as well as collaborated with the NEC to create the event “Craft for the Coast.” She intends to continue searching for sustainable solutions to plastic with the inspiration to protect life and experience human innovation.