By Stephanie Pearson, League of Women Voters of Broward County
The triple threat of COVID-19, hurricane season and plastics, reminiscent of the Wizard of Oz triple threat of lions, tigers, and bears, is upon us.
The dangers of the pandemic and hurricane season are obvious but what about plastics? That is what I want to know. Just when the public conversation about plastics seemed to be making headway along comes a pandemic to kill the discussion.
When food and supplies first flew off the shelves, I was shocked to see shopping carts filled with water bottles – mostly single use plastic water bottles. Why?
The pandemic did not threaten our water supply unlike a hurricane could. What were people thinking? Maybe they were just dependent on those water bottles.
Again, why? Most of our cities in Broward County have great drinking water and extra reassurance can be purchased with an under the sink purifier for our drinking water. When we leave our home, we can take a reusable water bottle.
Bottled water is unregulated and there is no assurance it is safer to drink than water from the tap. That may be an understatement. A recent study found that people who drank only bottled water may be consuming on average 90,000 microplastic particles per year compared with 4,000 for those who drank only tap water.
You may be surprised to learn that plastics are not only a scourge upon the land, our oceans, wildlife, and our air but that we are ingesting it as well. That is because plastic does not biodegrade but just breaks up into microplastic pieces which find their way into our food supply and drinking water. It is estimated that people are ingesting a credit card amount of plastic weekly.
During a pandemic we do not need more single use plastic water bottles. During a hurricane we do not need them either. By washing out bottles of lemonade, tea or other products we can easily fill them with water before a hurricane. Wash them well and dry thoroughly before storage.
The plastics industry includes the fossil fuel companies and chemical companies. Plastics are an oil-based product so the more we use, the more drilling is required to supply the raw materials. The process of making plastic is very damaging to our air and water and contributes to climate change.
And, most important, this product use cannot be sustained on Earth. The world uses 1 million plastic bottles per minute and 500 billion plastic bags per year and plastic pollution is set to double by 2030.
Plastic does not go away. Only about 2% gets recycled. To help solve our recycling crisis, the first and easiest thing to do is reduce the amount of waste we create – especially plastics.
The plastics industry has created and advanced the false narrative that plastics are safer than reusable bags at this time. A letter in the New England Journal of Medicine recently reported on a study done by scientists from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and Princeton University. That study found that the longest viability of the COVID-19 virus is on plastic.
That hasn’t stopped the industry from working hard to get plastic bans reversed and convince the public that they should be using more plastic during this pandemic. On March 18, the Plastics Industry Association sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Health requesting that the department make a public statement in favor of single use plastics.
That letter cited several studies that they say found that reusable bags carry viruses and bacteria. Those studies focus on bacteria not viruses (yes, we should be washing those reusable bags). At least one of those studies was funded by the chemical industry.
Plastics are another form of fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are partly responsible for climate change. We cannot allow the industry to convince government, business, and the public to stop the progress made in reducing our use of plastic.
Now that we are spending more time at home, it is a good time to look around, see all the plastic around you and try to find another way. A good start is to stop purchasing single use plastic water bottles.
Now is also a good time to demand that our Florida government officials ban some plastics or at least allow some local governments to do so. We need a combination of government action and the power of individuals to reduce demand for plastics, especially water bottles.
Stephanie Pearson is the chair of the Environmental Issues Committee for the League of Women Voters of Broward County.
“The Invading Sea” is the opinion arm of the Florida Climate Reporting Network, a collaborative of news organizations across the state focusing on the threats posed by the warming climate.