“Out of crisis comes clarity” wrote the Irish author, Randolph O’Toole. And so today, after witnessing the events of January 6, we have better clarity on the fragility of our democracy and the endemic racism and xenophobia that led up to it. Likewise, the pandemic has shone light on the primacy of science in determining responses to this crisis.
Not long ago, we focused greater attention on a different crisis — the glut of plastics poisoning our waterways and oceans and entering our food chain. Our town and towns like ours led the way in banning single-use plastic bags. Soon after, our state legislature passed the most comprehensive restrictions on single-use plastic in the country when Gov. Scott signed S. 113, a bill prohibiting retailers from providing customers with single use plastic bags as well as plastic stirrers at the checkout counter (our own Senator Balint was a co-sponsor).
A recent report on the presence of microplastics in human placenta (Environmental International, vol. 146, Jan ’21, 106274) makes it disturbingly clear that we still have a long way to go in our battle against plastic pollution. Microplastics, particles smaller than 5 millimeters, are derived from plastic objects in the environment such as bags, water bottles, and laundry containers – the list goes on and on. The presence of microparticles continues to be discovered in the gastrointestinal tracts of marine animals and the human intestines (Schwabi, et al, 2019).
In this time of COVID-19 when we see more clearly than ever the importance of maintaining healthy immune systems, the real possibility of microplastics triggering immunoreactions should be of particular concern and the discovery of microplastics in human placenta raises the stakes even higher. Placenta play a critical role in supporting fetus development and so this latest report should alarm us all.
So what can we do about it? I offer the following steps and invite others in our community to share their thoughts:
1. Support the Vermont Public Interest Group (VPIRG) in its work with our legislature to cut down on plastics. VPIRG has been working well with a couple of legislative allies on bills to ban throwaway hotel toiletries as well as a ban on single-use plastic food service wares (following the lead of a bill already passed in California as well as multiple city ordinances). VPIRG is also working with leaders on the Natural Resources Committees to expand Bottle Bill programs to include water bottles and other beverages like iced tea and sports drinks, and on legislation to increase levels of recycled content in plastic beverage containers. (for more information, contact VPIRG’s Environmental Associate, Marcie Gallagher at firstname.lastname@example.org).
2. If you’re still buying laundry detergent in plastic containers, consider switching over to products like TruEarth laundry strips, available with free shipping from Well Earth Goods (wellearthgoods.com) or encourage the Co-op once again to sell laundry soap, shampoo and conditioner in bulk. Also, encourage our local supermarkets to stock TruEarth or similar products. Or, go to Pinterest to learn how to make your own laundry detergent (less than $2 for 5 gallons).
3. Query current Select Board members as well as candidates for the Select Board on their positions regarding our local bag ban ordinance. Would they favor an expansion of the ordinance to include measures similar to those being proposed at the state level by VPIRG?
4. Educate! Promote the following films to learn more about how severe this other crisis truly is and how we cannot wait to address it:
• “A World Full of Plastic” (2017, YouTube). “By 2025 our oceans will contain one ton of plastic for every three tons of fish.”
• “Albatross” (2017, free download, albatrossthefilm.com). “Tens of thousands of baby albatross die every year because their stomachs are filled with plastic …”
• “The Story of Plastic” (2020, Discovery Channel, Amazon, AppleTV, Xfinity). Follows the life cycle of plastic from oil to waste in our oceans. A critical look at how plastic industry has promoted the false narrative regarding recycling.
• “A Plastic Ocean” (2016, Netflix). A powerful documentary showing how plastic toxins eventually end up on our plates.
If anyone still doubts that the poisoning of our oceans and fish by plastic particles has not reached the crisis levels, I challenge that person to view “A Plastic Ocean” or any of these other films.