Stopping the Flow of Plastic at its Source
By: CJ O’Brien, Second year Master’s in Development Practice Student with concentrations in environmental conservation & organization and management, Academic Fellow at Oceana
As a Florida native, I have always been in love with the marine ecosystem. The first time I saw a coral reef in the Florida Keys, I was mesmerized by sea fans swaying in the current, colorful parrot fish nibbling on coral, and a spotted eagle ray gliding alongside me. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve noticed more and more plastic trash along my beloved Florida beaches and their coral reefs. Humans produce over 300 million tons of plastic every year and 8 million tons of it ends up in our oceans where it entangles and chokes marine life, floats at the sea surface, and accumulates on the deepest depths of the ocean. I worry that future generations may never experience a clean beach or a healthy reef. They may never see a colorful parrot fish or the sway of a sea fan because of plastic pollution. These thoughts keep me up at night.
With a sense of urgency, I constantly ask myself, “what can I do to protect the oceans from plastic pollution?” Unfortunately, the most common “solutions” to the plastic pollution problem fall short of solving it. Of all the plastic that has been produced, only 9% has been recycled. Individual consumers can decrease their plastic use, but this can be extremely difficult due to the lack of plastic alternatives in the market. Trash cleanups are useful ways to raise awareness and clean up the community, but they don’t stop the flow of plastic at its source. This problem is simply too large for us to rely on solutions that fall short.
Think of plastic pollution as water running out of a faucet. “When your bathtub is overflowing, you don’t run for a mop before you turn off the faucet. Recycling is the mop. We need to turn off the faucet” says Jacqueline Savitz, the Chief Policy officer at Oceana. The way to turn off the faucet is by holding companies accountable and by passing plastic policies at campus, local, state, and national levels. Fortunately, we live in a state that is making strides toward banning single-use plastic. It is our job as citizens, students, and activists to urge policy makers, business owners, and campuses to implement policies that reduce plastic.
Now let’s dive into Georgia’s current plastic policy ecosystem. Thanks to Hannah Testa, a youth activist and founder of Hannah4Change, the Georgia General Assembly passed a resolution acknowledging February 15, 2018 as “Plastic Pollution Awareness Day” at the state capitol. This created a domino effect of plastic legislation in the state of Georgia. Since then, Fulton County passed Resolution 19-R-0322 in July 2019, stating that they would eliminate the use of single-use plastics in Fulton County owned, operated, and leased buildings and facilities. A few months later, the Atlanta City Council voted for Ordinance 19-O-1418 paired with resolution 19-R-3949 which would prohibit “the use of non-recyclable single use plastics, by City of Atlanta operations, by commercial operations located in public buildings and public facilities owned or operated by the City of Atlanta, and in Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.” Furthermore, the Clarkston City Council unanimously passed an “acceptable packaging and products” resolution prohibiting single-use plastics in Clarkston City businesses. Now, Decatur is in the process of county plastics ordinance as well.
It is apparent that local policies are crucial for raising awareness, stopping plastic at the source, and starting a movement. When one city passes an ordinance, another city is not far behind. The same could be said about college campuses. As an Emory Grad student, I believe Emory University is already a leader in sustainability. Emory was voted top 26 most sustainable research universities, and this is a huge reason why many attend this university. However, I also believe Emory can take it a step further by pledging to phase out unnecessary single-use plastics on campus.
By 2025, Emory has already committed to diverting 95% of its waste from municipal landfills, supporting procurement of local products with a sustainability-focused business incubator, and supporting culture change towards “reduce, repair, restore, and reuse” mentality and “cradle to cradle” purchasing. By including a single-use plastic reduction component in Emory’s sustainability goals, we are not only supporting the state of Georgia in its efforts to reduce plastic, but we are setting a precedent for other universities to follow suit. If you are a student that would love to help me in getting a “Break Free from Plastic Pledge” started on campus, leave a comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If local communities all across Georgia can help pass plastic ordinances, we can pass a pledge right here on Emory’s campus. Let’s turn off this faucet together!
“A Long-Standing Commitment to Sustainable Growth.” Emory Office of Sustainability Initiatives, 1 Jan. 1970, sustainability.emory.edu/about-us/history-awards/.
Facts About Plastic- Plastic Oceans Foundation. (2020, October 20). Retrieved October 23, 2020, from https://plasticoceans.org/the-facts/
“Overview Fact Sheet.” Oceana, https://usa.oceana.org/sites/default/files/2019/12/17/plastics_overview_fact_sheet.pdf