Editor’s notes: This is the first in what we hope will be a series of environment-related articles that are co-sponsored by two community organizations — the Beavercreek Environmental Advisory Committee and the Beaver Creek Wetlands Association. John Koerner of the BEAC, and Anna Kamnyev of the BCWA work with their respective organizations to ensure the quality of the information contained in the articles. We will strive to choose topics pertinent to almost everyone, including subjects like recycling, the wetlands, wildlife, air & water quality and other vital natural resources. Thank you — for reading this article, and for considering its potential future impacts on all of us.
An estimated 5 to 14 million tons of plastic garbage go into the oceans every year, and plastics make up about 73 percent of all beach litter worldwide. There are floating islands of plastic waste in all of the world’s oceans, and in the Caribbean Sea. Fish and other aquatic animals eat/swallow the plastics, and some even get strangled by it. Much of the plastic garbage comes from Asian countries (China and Japan), but every country — including the US — adds to that.
We see similar issues right here in Beavercreek. Whenever we have a big storm, large quantities of plastic and styrofoam trash items wash down Little Beaver Creek from just west of us, and they pool in calmer sections of the creek including near the Fairfield Road Bridge. We have seen how the trash items are already in the physical/chemical process of breaking down into hundreds and thousands of tiny pieces — due to the combination of water action, sunlight, lawn mowers, and even vehicles crushing them in our streets.
There is an outstanding (and much more detailed) feature article on the plastics issue, written by Laura Parker, on pages 40-91 of the June 2018 issue of National Geographic Magazine. It was the main source for key information in this article, and is well worth reading if you want to learn more about the current magnitude and scope of the global plastic waste problem.
Even if you do not get the chance to read that National Geographic article, there are some things that each of us can do to help reduce the plastic/styrofoam waste problem — both right here in our city, and worldwide:
1. Reduce our usage of plastic bags, plastic straws, plastic drink cups, styrofoam coffee cups, and styrofoam/plastic “take home our leftovers from the restaurant” containers. (If you do not really need a bag when you buy something in a store, tell the cashier “no bag is necessary.” At restaurants, tell the waiter/waitress “I can drink without a straw.” Encourage companies you do business with to use paper or cloth or other non-plastic items, instead of plastics/styrofoam, whenever possible.)
2. When you need to buy products packaged in plastic containers, try to buy products (including food) packaged in containers marked with “1” and “2” (triangular) recycling symbols. Items marked with a “1” or a “2” recycling symbol are “easy” for manufacturers to recycle — easier than the other five plastics numbers (“4” and “5” are termed “manageable”, “6” is “difficult”, and “3” and “7” are “very difficult” to recycle.)
3. Obtain and use some sort of a reusable water bottle (and/or a reusable coffee cup), rather than buying new “pre-filled” water bottles every time you drink a bottle of water (or getting a new “throw-away” styrofoam coffee cup each time you visit the local coffee shop.)
4. Recycle whatever plastics you can. And try not to let your plastic recycling items “blow around” in the wind/windstorms — weigh them (and your recyclable paper items) down with heavier items inside your recycling bins (a lot of items initially placed in bins end up “escaping” from the bins, and disintegrating into little pieces in roadside ditches, streams, and storm sewers all over Beavercreek.) Right now in the US we recycle only about 9% of our plastics. Globally the recycling rate is about twice that. China and European countries recycle approximately three times as much plastic as America does.
5. Try to throw away all plastic garbage/litter in garbage cans, and dispose of cigarette butts (including their integral plastic cigarette filters) in cigarette disposal “devices” — ones that are designed for safe cigarette butt disposal.
6. When you go out for a walk or jog around your neighborhood, take two small bags along with you on the walk/jog (one for the recyclable items you find along the route, and one for the trash items you find.)
7. Try not to run over plastic and styrofoam (and metal cans) items with your lawn mower (and also please mention that to commercial contractors — if you hire them to mow and trim your lawn for you), or even with your car/vehicle. That starts the process of breaking plastics and styrofoam into smaller and smaller pieces of trash — that are more difficult to pick up and throw away before they become tiny “micro” plastic fragments. The metal can fragments/shards can be dangerous too.
Ed Bogden represents the BEAC and BCWA with his monthly columns.