Merriott column: Awash in plastic with no plan(et) B
If someone had told me 50 years ago on the first Earth Day when I did an impromptu trash pickup that in 50 years whales would be starving to death because their gullets were clogged up with plastic, I would have thought they were two bricks short of a load.
However, our rivers, oceans and landfills are awash in single-use plastic. There is a plastic garbage patch twice the size of Texas in the Pacific Ocean? Did you see the endangered Ridley sea turtle with a plastic straw embedded in its nose? A whale starved to death because it had 80 plastic bags in its stomach and could not eat.
Obviously, these are just the ones that made it to shore but many more just starve or suffocate and sink to the bottom. And maybe the worst of it is all this plastic is entering our food chain as it breaks down into little pieces that basically never, ever decompose.
Our short stay here should not be defined by the destruction of the natural environment God has so richly blessed us with. Our mindset should be evolving to one that proclaims we are borrowing the natural environment from and preserving it for future generations — for our children, our grandchildren and beyond.
Let’s bring this issue local. Pitkin County reported 768 tons of single-use bottles ended up in the landfill in 2015. How many bottles is that, probably about 5 million.
So, what can we do about it you ask? Well, we start of course by taking personal responsibility. You cut back where you can on use of single-use plastic, but it’s going to require so much more. This is especially true now that China will not be buying most of our “recycled plastic.”
Remember when Carbondale and Aspen led the valley several years ago by banning single-use plastic bags at grocery stores? Somehow, we seem to have lost political will on this important issue. Even the European Union banned a comprehensive list of single-use plastics on Oct. 24, 2018. Surely they are not more informed and forward-thinking than we are in this valley?
I really think we have to be ready for radical thinking on issues that affect our planet as we are running out of time. This is especially true now that the population of Colorado has grown from around 2 million in 1970 to almost 6 million today, and is projected to get to as many as 10 million by 2050.
Colorado should immediately join other states in implementing far-reaching and common-sense environmental and ecological decisions and policies. California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Oregon and Vermont have all implemented container deposit laws.
On Earth Day 2019, April 20, we should announce our intention to implement a 10-cent container deposit on all single-use plastic containers and make a proclamation that we will eliminate or greatly reduce all/most single use plastic in Colorado by Earth Day 2020. That’s the big picture.
There are other ways you can personally approach reducing single-use plastic. Encouraging the use of reusable water bottles is a no-brainer. We should quickly move toward having refill stations at all government offices, all parks, and all stores with foot traffic over 20 folks a day.
It should be a requirement on all new commercial buildings in Garfield and Pitkin County. Heck, I got a paper water bottle at the Wheeler last year. Refuse to use plastic straws, Styrofoam containers and plastic bags and bottles.
In view of what we now know, there is simply no excuse to externalize this environmental cost on the backs of our children and grandchildren while sentencing ocean wildlife and birds to a painful and agonizing death.
And, like the Carbondale EBOR (Environmental Bill of Rights) so eloquently states and resolves, “We must keep and improve our intrinsic value of clean air, clean water, open spaces, the stars at night, wildlife, appropriate development and an innovative and passionate citizenry now and for future generations.” It also states among its goals solid waste reduction and increased recycling efforts.
Remember, if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.
Frosty Merriott is a CPA in Carbondale. He served 10 years on the Carbondale Town Council and is a current member of the Carbondale Chamber of Commerce executive board and the Carbondale Environmental Board. He is a registered independent and considers himself a fiscal conservative but an original tree hugger from Louisiana. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.