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Francis Koster: Enough plastic in a week of food to make a credit card

By Francis Koster

Imagine an evening (pre-COVID-19) where you take your family out to dinner and order a family-sized meal of seafood gumbo full of clams, shrimp and other delights. You may get more than you bargained for.  

Most of the plastic made in the world winds up in water, where it breaks down into invisible but long-lasting pieces which gets eaten by wildlife. The bodies of fish, clams crabs and other water critters contain plastic they ate. Bigger fish eat the little fish, you eat the big fish and you also get a dose of plastic. No charge will appear on your bill.

If you ordered hot tea with dinner, things could get worse because some brands of tea have plastic in the tea bag, dissolving astounding amounts of invisible microplastics into the hot tea water which wind up in your tummy.

Back home, as you all prepare for bed, you brush your teeth and make sure your kids brush theirs. You thought you were practicing good healthcare hygiene, but some brands of toothpaste have tiny bits of plastic in them to carry color and other chemicals. 

Scientists from around the world have confirmed have that the average person eats or drinks the equivalent to a credit card’s worth of tiny invisible plastic particles a week!

Tiny invisible plastic acts like a clean-up sponge in the environment. This sounds good until you eat the sponge. When you swallow these invisible plastic pieces, you bring those poisons into your body. 

You not only consume plastic, you excrete it. One study involved volunteers who donated their human waste for examination. The scientists found 30 pieces of microplastic of in every teaspoon of solid waste examined. The bottom line is that we have an uncontrolled industrial process that is creating a health risk for every citizen on earth. 

The entire world’s plastic production in 2018 was around 100 pounds for every citizen of the world and the rate of production is doubling every 11 years. Plastic lasts around 450 years in the environment. So much plastic is now in the oceans that six floating dumps are so large (and growing) that they are visible from satellites looking down on the earth. 

A less direct but equally important issue is the contribution plastics make to climate change. In 2019, the production and incineration of plastic was calculated to produce an amount of greenhouse gasses equivalent of the emissions from 189 500-megawatt coal power plants.

One major problem is that existing government regulation makes protecting the public health your problem. This means a company can make whatever it wants, and once you buy the bottle of water or bag of salad greens, they have handed you the responsibility to dispose of it in a way that does not harm others.   

For the vast majority of all plastics no such method of disposal exists. 

The only current solution is to require that plastics be made using natural ingredients that can melt back into the ground and water without causing harm. No regulations have been put in place to make that happen. Why is that?   

Follow the money.

The source of the current ingredients used to make plastics come from oil and gas companies. They fear regulation and reduction in sales of oil and gas due to climate change regulation so they are diversifying their product lines into plastic production.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has been working since 2016 to get a multi-national team of experts in place to study both the size of the plastic pollution problem and possible solutions. In April of 2020, the White House announced that it was suspending America’s contributions and leaving the organization.

You can lower your family’s intake of plastics. Stop buying water in plastic bottles or using plastic takeout drinking cups. Do not microwave food in plastic containers or place plastic wrapped food in boiling water. Use paper bags when grocery shopping.  

You can also download an app on your phone that will scan some products and tell you if they contain plastics. Go to www.beatthemicrobead.org

To solve this crisis we have to surface two different problems. The first is making people aware of just how awful and fast growing a problem this is. The second is by educating others about how industry has created a situation where they are not held accountable for the kind of plastic they make, or any of the harm it causes.  

We have to make the invisible visible.

Francis Koster lives in Kannapolis and is a local activist who has been studying, teaching and implementing local solutions to national problems for over 50 years.

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