By Lisa Kaas Boyle and David Helvarg
The inaugural March for the Ocean — which will be held on Saturday, June 9th in our nation’s capitol, with sister marches around the globe — has an appropriate call to action: ‘The Ocean is Rising, and So are We.’
Unfortunately, so too is a wave of unrelenting plastic debris, posing an existential threat to life on our planet. We are the only species creating waste that the earth cannot digest. Plastic is designed to be resilient, and single-use plastic goods are filling our landfills and basins at a speed that far surpasses rates of recycling. Current projections forecast that there will be more plastic than fish (by weight) in the ocean by the year 2050.
Of the famed 3Rs — Reduce, Reuse, Recycle — reducing the use of an everlasting material like plastic is the best option for the environment. Reuse is a distant second since the chemical components of plastics are increasingly found in all living things, including even the umbilical cords of newborn babies; almost all of us have BPA (an industrial chemical) in our blood due to plastic leaching from bottles and the lining of aluminum cans. And recycling simply delays a trip to the landfill, as plastic recycling is rarely a closed loop (cannot be endlessly repeated) and it does not abate the constant flow of new plastic that continues to escape into our environment.
In fact, recycling has proven to be a massive fail. It is a messy polluting process that has turned into an industry crisis ever since China — which used to be the dumping grounds for our used plastic — recently closed its harbors to any new plastic waste. The current market in America for used plastic is almost nonexistent thanks to continual production of fossil fuels that are used to make ever more and cheaper plastic. “The bottom line is that what is recycled and what is not is directly linked to oil,” says Tom Szaky, CEO of TerraCycle, which works with companies on programs to make packaging recyclable. “If the cost of collection and processing is greater than the material value, then the material becomes non-recyclable… And the material value is 100 percent dependent on oil prices.”
What can we do before we are buried by our plastic waste or our seafood — tainted by PCB and DDT-absorbing microplastics making their way up the food chain — becomes a serious health hazard?
The organizers of the March for the Ocean are highlighting meaningful solutions to the plastic pollution challenge.
First, we can begin with our own daily practices. When Ocean March Steering Committee members Dianna Cohen and co-author Lisa Boyle founded the Plastic Pollution Coalition in 2009, they added a new R — Refuse. The March will be plastic-free, and organizers are providing alternatives to single use plastic water bottles. Participants are encouraged to bring their own reusable water bottles and to fill/refill them using hydration stations, and to download the free WeTap App to locate fountains along the March route and around the world. There will also be sustainable restaurants and other ocean friendly sites nearby offering free water.
Second, the March is highlighting the ocean movement’s increasing focus on corporate accountability. It is not enough to convince an underpaid restaurant server or coffee house barista that single use plastic straws are wreaking havoc on our environment. Major retail and wholesale corporations are going to have to start explaining to customers, shareholders and public servants why they continue to use billions of these throwaway items every year. We will bring pressure to expose and reform these business practices until these companies change course and commit to a timely transition away from petroleum-based plastic packaging.
This Saturday, we are marching for the ocean not only to say NO to plastic pollution, but also NO to the Trump Administration’s plans to open up over 90% of U.S. ocean waters to offshore oil drilling and spilling.
We say YES to clean job-generating renewable energy. YES to ocean friendly packaging. YES to protecting our living coasts and communities – both human and wild – from rising seas, and other fossil fuel-related climate disruptions. YES to a healthy ocean and clean, plastic-free water for all. www.marchfortheocean.org
Lisa Kaas Boyle, Esq. is an environmental attorney, co-founder of the Plastic Pollution Coalition and serves on the March for the Ocean Steering Committee.
David Helvarg is an author, Executive Director of Blue Frontier, an ocean conservation and policy group, and Chair of the March for the Ocean Steering Committee..