While reading The Economist on-line recently a link to eurekalert.org led to a Society of General Microbiology report questioning whether there might be a – ‘Microbial answer to plastic pollution?’ Apparently, researchers from the University of Sheffield and the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science may have discovered that certain marine microbes could contribute to the breakdown of ocean-bourn plastics and the toxic chemicals associated with them.
As Jesse Harrison explained, “Plastics form a daily part of our lives and are treated as disposable by consumers. As such, plastics comprise the most abundant and rapidly growing component of man-made litter entering the oceans.”
While scientists are trying to determine whether the incalculable tons of plastics in our oceans take many years to decompose or break down in the salty brine more quickly, plastic waste is recognized as a long-term environmental problem. For, whether it remains intact for extended periods of time or decomposes quickly into a toxic brew, plastics pollution is dangerous to marine life. Even the American Chemistry Council, which has its own Plastics Division, which seems to have then spawned Marine Debris Solutions has now recognized the problem.
Not surprisingly, their solution does not seem to involve using less plastics! Instead they offer the snappy slogan – ‘Plastic Doesn’t Belong in Our Oceans It Belongs in Recycling Bins.’
Recyling bins do offer part of the solution for plastics that we may really need. However, much of the plastics pollution in our oceans and the waterways that eventually wend their way to the sea are not critical components for a healthy society. Rather, they are thin film plastic shopping bags and other designed-for-disposal plastic packaging materials.
Please remember, recycle is the last phase in – Reduce/Reuse/Recycle. Use of plastic bags needs to be reduced and pricing signals generally work. As proven in San Francisco and elsewhere, a fee imposed upon plastic bags does reduce their use. However, due in large part to Sacramento lobbying and court contests on behalf of the American Chemistry Council and their cronies, other California cities are effectively precluded from adopting similar ordinances currently.
The Sonoma County Waste Management Agency is studying this issue and should soon consider a county-wide ordinance to adopt further product stewardship principles for plastics and other pollutants. Each city in Sonoma County and the County of Sonoma are members of the Agency. Let your city councilmembers and supervisors know that it’s time to stop bagging it with plastic!