Hi, my name is Madison, and I am overcoming a serious addiction. It is a substance I have been exposed to since birth, from my first pacifier, my first baby bottle, my toys.
I’m not just talking about BPA. I’m talking about plastic in general. And though we don’t think of plastic as a dangerous chemical like cigarettes, plastic is harming us, and worse, it’s destroying our planet.
Consider every time you’ve wrapped something in saran wrap, a Ziploc bag, or bought something from the store packaged in plastic. How about the plastic bags the cashier packed all your purchases in? What about every single straw you have ever used in your entire life? Well, they didn’t disappear, just because you don’t see them anymore. They went somewhere, and since the majority of these plastic items are not-recyclable, and the ones that are, have only been recyclable recently, where did all of our plastic waste go?
Well, a lot of it went to landfill. All our trash gets collected, it’s driven to a giant landfill site, and it’s dumped. Every day, that pile gets covered with a layer of dirt, which helps prevent pests and odor, but blocks out oxygen, creating an anaerobic environment where most bacteria cannot break down materials, a necessary component to biodegrade material. In otherwords, if you throw out dog poop in a compostable bag, it’s not going to break down, you may actually be making the problem worse. Why? Because methanogens, bacteria that doesn’t require oxygen to decompose material, release methane as a metabolic byproduct. Methane, a substance 7x more noxious than carbon dioxide. In other words, it releases chemical even more hazardous to our ozone layer.
Garbage being burned in Beijing. Image Source: China Daily
Sometimes trash gets burned, though this practice has pretty much become outlawed in America, it still is prevalent in the global south. Speaking of, America is notorious for shipping our excess waste to struggling countries as a way of saying, “Hey. You deal with our shit.”
We even send them our recyclables, and they often don’t have the means to recycle the materials efficiently, so it piles up. In April of 2018, the U.S. shipped 66.8 million pounds of used plastic to Malaysia, and an addition 63.6 pounds the following month in May. That month we also shipped 41.6. million pounds of plastic to Thailand, 38.9 million pounds to Vietnam, and 31 million pounds to India.
The system does not work because there is no system, it’s just a mess. So those with the best intensions of recycling their plastics may be doing more damage than good. And even in the best conditions, recycling costs clean water and energy, and still often releases carbon dioxide in the process.
So, the only solution is to reduce, reuse, and refill whenever possible. Composting whatever you can is absolutely a must now. Recycling should be a last resort. And buying materials that go to landfill should simply be banned. We can’t afford to waste time anymore. I see so my people through my work who volunteer with animals but don’t even make an effort recycle, never mind compost. They’re not getting the big picture: if we don’t have a planet, we don’t have animals either. We are talking mass extinction.
I have recently decided to go to law school because I believe having a law degree will give me a stronger voice. This is why I haven’t been posting as much, I have been busting my ass studying for LSATs. I believe that we are going to see countless climate change refugees in the next few years, and they are going to need representation, something all asylum seekers should be entitled to. This has gotten preachy, so I will end this with a final note. I never want to leave people feeling dread, or worse, hopeless.
There is still hope.
But we have to start talking about zero waste. Out loud. We need to make this a big deal. It IS a big deal. And look how much support this community has as a whole. We can do this. We can’t give up now.
Talk about it. Write about. Make your efforts known.