Our modern lives are inevitably tied to plastic. The so-called Everlasting Polymer is the epitome of convenience, so it was love at first sight for our consumerist culture. Plastic pollution is a major threat to biosphere health, and the problem is constantly worsening. Single-use plastics comprise about 50% of the 8 million tons of plastic entering the oceans each year (plasticoceans.org), and quantities of this waste can be found all over the world, from the bottom of the Mariana Trench to our own San Juan Islands.
The demands to clean up our seas of waste have multiplied in recent years as we finally realize the cost of our convenient lives. But we cannot hope that simply cleaning up our mess will make a dent in the issue unless we address it at the source. To explain this, I often use the analogy of trying to mop up a floor when a faucet is still pouring water onto it. We need to turn off the faucet of plastic production and use.
Luckily, different technologies, both new and old, are slowly moving to replace plastic. In recent years, discussion about actions individuals can take to reduce their plastic use has been circulating. Individual action is certainly a meaningful and measurable way to make a difference, but it is just one of many spheres of influence for change. Community and legislative action are the stepping stones between individual change and cultural/political change.
This article coincides with several events on both the community and legislative action levels involving plastic. In the Washington State Legislature, Bill SB5022 has passed both the house and senate and is on its way to Governor Inslee’s desk! This bill takes great steps to improve recycling and reduce plastic pollution. Companion legislative action involving single-use plastics may be considered by San Juan County soon. And the annual Great Islands Cleanup is set to take place on Saturday, April 24th—a chance for the community to work together to care for these islands that matter so much to us.
All these actions are as important for change as personally reducing plastic use is. In order to comprehensively address our plastic problem, we must approach it from multiple levels: the individual, community, and legislative levels. In other words, it takes a village to turn off the faucet.
by Kaia Olson, high school sophomore from Spokane