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LETTER: Better Habits Can Fix the Oceans’ Plastics Crisis

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LETTER: A letterbox with the inscription Letter to the editor

What habits can we change to address the crisis in our oceans? The ready availability of single-use plastic seems to be our nemesis. ....

During Earth Month this April let's encourage our friends and families to take action against single-use plastics which make up more than 40% of all plastic waste! We're referring to grocery bags, drink bottles, straws, food wrappers, and plastic packaging around a variety of products. Those are “convenience items.” We don't generally think much about them. After you read the paragraphs below, we hope you will be convinced that you too can help address the plastics crisis in our oceans by becoming a more intentional consumer.

National Geographic reports that scientists believe 8.8 million tons of plastic wind up in the oceans every year. To get some sense of the enormity of the problem, imagine stacking five plastic grocery bags filled with this trash, one on top of the other. They would cover every foot of coastline in the world. That's a lot of trash!

The sea is polluted by plastic that was originally left on the ground. Often that litter blows first into creeks and rivers. Eventually it ends up in the ocean. Because plastic trash doesn't decompose, it stays in the ocean. Discarded fishing nets and 6-pack rings can entangle birds and marine animals. The graphic photos are disturbing. Additionally, straws and grocery bags are often mistaken as food.

National Geographic offers kids “10 tips to reduce your plastic use.” (We think these are appropriate considerations for adults as well.)

1. SAY NO TO STRAWS (Animals can get sick after mistaking straws for food. Instead, carry your own paper straw or reusable version. Also avoid using one-time throw-away plastic utensils.)

2. FILL UP AT THE FOUNTAIN (Drink out of a reusable water bottle instead of a plastic version. Regrettably nearly one million plastic drink bottles are sold every minute around the world.)

3. MAKE A BETTER BAG (Pack sandwiches and snacks in reusable containers or cloth sacks instead of plastic bags.)

4. SNACK ON FRUIT (Choose an apple, banana, or orange instead of snacks packed in plastic. Fruit fills you up in a healthy way, plus there’s no extra packaging. Save the core, peels, and rinds for your compost bin.)

5. BUILD A GOODIE BAG (Avoid filling party goodie bags with plastic trinkets. Homemade treats or coupons to a local bakery are good alternatives.)

6. GO FOR THE CONE (No need for plastic spoons and cups when eating ice cream.)

7. BUY IN BULK (Shop for snacks, cereal, and pasta in the bulk section of your grocery store or natural food shop to avoid waste from plastic packaging. Then store it all in reusable glass jars.)

8. DITCH MICROBEADS (Don't use face wash or toothpaste with microbeads. These tiny plastic beads go down the drain, eventually flowing to rivers, lakes, and the ocean. The

ingredients polyethylene and polypropylene usually indicate that the item likely contains microbeads. When consumed as food by fish and sea turtles—they can be deadly.)

9. NEVER LITTER (Sometimes you have to use plastic, and that's OK! But be selective, always recycle plastic when possible, and never leave it in the environment.)

10. PICK UP WHAT YOU CAN (Keep local creeks and streams trash free.)

Scientists and engineers are working on a type of plastic that can be used and reused. This will be an important change for the food and beverage industry which is currently a huge source of single-use plastic trash. In the meantime, let's bring our own cups to fast food and casual dining restaurants that have a self-serve soda bar.

We have the potential to make a significant environmental difference by changing some of our habits. Let's get started.

Marionette Jones and Judy Lamana

Warrenton, VA

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(1) comment

Todd M

While this a great idea, the majority of seagoing trash and plastics are from China

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