If you saw the 60 Minutes segment called Plastic Plague, you might have felt the same despair as we did. It showed in graphic detail that plastic is everywhere - our homes, vehicles, soil, air, and water. To be fair, we know that plastic products play an important role in the world. Medical devices are certainly among them. But the problem, of course, is that it never goes away. Instead, it degrades into micro plastics that invade our environment and try as we might, it’s nearly impossible to avoid it.

There is little, if any, attempt to confront the fossil fuel industry that produces plastic items at an ever increasing rate of 40%. Instead, we generously subsidize them while they pollute the planet. In fact, we are spending 10 times more on those subsidies than we spend on education. (Forbes)

Even the most isolated locales such as Midway Island, an atoll with 40-60 human inhabitants, is invaded by plastic every day. It was a focus of 60 Minutes where albatross hop among the plastic trash, consuming it and feeding it to their chicks. Decomposed bodies reveal the extent of the problem: Each body has plastic in it. Adult albatross carry five tons of plastic to the island each year as they search for food near one of the garbage islands in the South Pacific and bring it to their hungry off-spring. Their death is the tragic outcome.

Pakistan is another sad story of uncontrolled plastic pollution where 55 billion plastic bags are used each year. It is attempting, for the fourth time, to impose a ban on plastic bags. On Aug. 14, the city of Islamabad began the ban with a new plan including more education and distribution of reusable bags to the public. It also imposes a heavy fine for anyone caught with a plastic bag and higher fines for manufacturers and shops that produce or use them. The plastic accumulation clogs rivers and creates unsightly, stinking piles of trash that increase each day. (The Guardian)

These far away places are just two examples of what we, as a planet, are facing. Even here in our beautiful area we experience some of the same problems, but ours are not so obvious. If you eat, drink, or breathe, you are consuming plastic particles. A study done in 2018 took stool samples from people in Finland, Japan, Italy, and Russia. Each sample contained microplastics. Scientists continue to research the effects of these particles on our health. Are we passing them from our bodies or are some attaching to our organs? That’s one of the research questions scientists are asking.

One bit of good news this week: A local grocery store cashier estimated that every third customer is carrying reusable bags when shopping. That information lifted our spirits and spurred us on to continue our mission of plastic reduction. If you see someone with a reusable bag, say thank you. If you have an extra bag, give it to someone who needs it. Each small, vital effort is our way of showing that we care for our community and our world.

Pat Helmberger

Barb Veit

Co-chairs, BYOBag Committee

Grand Rapids Area Earth Circle

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