Our community has a well deserved reputation of recognizing problems (or opportunities) and coming together to address them. The emerging crisis of single use plastics is a good example. Delray city government has implemented a sensible plan for banning plastic straws. We all recognize this is a symbolic gesture, a good first step, and more needs to be done quickly. There is much more that can be done once we recognize the magnitude of the problem.
One doesn’t need to be an alarmist to realize that the world is being overwhelmed by plastic. It simply doesn’t go away. The first plastic plate or straw ever manufactured is still sitting (not rotting) in a landfill or the bottom of the ocean. We produce over 300 million metric tons of the stuff every year and about 40% of it finds its way to the ocean where it swirls around or sinks to the bottom. And remains there forever.
Or it gets consumed by a fish, a whale, a bird, a turtle, a seal or a clam. The plastic obviously isn’t digestible so it collects in the guts of the animal until it dies. We have all read stories about whales washing dead on the shore that are filled to bursting with single use plastics. They can’t digest or excrete it. So they die. The thing is that plastic bags look like jellyfish and shiny plastic pieces look like minnows. So the birds and seals and fish and whales swallow it. To their eternal regret.
That’s not the worst part. Or the only issue. Beaches all over the world are littered and covered with plastic residue up to the level of several feet as tides, currents, and winds circulate and deposit tons of the stuff on previously pristine beaches. And bays and harbors. The bottom of the ocean 10,000 feet (or more than 2 miles) deep is littered with plastic refuse. And in 30 years there will be more plastic in the ocean than there will be animal life.
There is also an insidious part. Another way plastic works its way into the ocean is microbeads and tiny particles of plastic. Microbeads are used in toothpaste and other products which flow into waste water and rivers and then into oceans. Microbeads can be absorbed into the bodies of both the fin fish and shell fish that we consume. What happens in our bodies we don’t yet know. But we do know that microbeads act like sponges absorbing and concentrating toxins such as mercury and arsenic.
With these concerns in mind, the Chamber of Commerce and the city government of Delray are sponsoring a Town Hall meeting on April 29th at the Crest Theater in Old School Square. The meeting will consist of an Exhibitor Showcase and formal speeches. The doors to the Showcase open at 5:00 and the presentations begin at 6:00. Both the Showcase and the presenters consist of leaders notable in the field of sustainability. Participants will be engaged in a serious discussion of the future of single use plastics, a little fun with art and music from discarded plastic, and a chance to help determine the way forward. Participants will hear about the scope of the problem, what various organizations and companies are doing about it, and what citizens can do. Every day.
The meeting is ultimately about consciousness raising. We are all vaguely aware of the problem but perhaps not its scope and usually it doesn’t rise to the level of us doing something about it. How many times have we gone to the supermarket (or big box store or hardware store or drug store) and left our reusable bags in the car? Consciousness raising will make us more aware of what we need to do. And the Town Hall meeting will provide all of us with a toolkit of things we can do daily to help remediate this alarming scourge.
Jim Chard is a civic activist and contributing writer to WiseTribe. He is coordinating the Plastic Planet Town Hall on behalf of the Delray Beach Chamber of Commerce and the City of Delray.