By Lisa Biehle Files
We've seen the images of seagulls caught in plastic bags, microscopic plastic beads in plankton, and the Great Norther Pacific garbage patch. Plastic is so ubiquitous that cleaning up our enormous mess sometimes seems hopeless. But three opportunities are available for those with a heart to make a difference.
A Plastic Ocean
“A Plastic Ocean” will screen from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. Friday, July 28, at Euclid Avenue Methodist Church, 405 S. Euclid Ave., in Oak Park. Conversation and action opportunities will follow. This screening is open to the public with a suggested donation of $5 per person.
Watch the trailer: plasticoceans.org/watch-trailer/
“A Plastic Ocean” shows the heartbreaking impact of plastic pollution on marine life and offers potential solutions.
Plastic Free July
When a group of 40 people in Perth, Australia, started Plastic Free July in 2011, they didn’t imagine it would spread like wildfire across the globe to become a movement of more than one million in 130 countries by 2016. 2017 looks even brighter.
It’s not too late to get on board for one day, one week, or the rest of July by going to www.plasticfreejuly.org. Fill out your commitment form and take the challenge to give up these primary polluters and more:
Plastic straws (500 million used daily in US)
Plastic bottles (2.5 million used per hour in US)
Plastic bags (17 million per year in Oak Park alone)
Share your enthusiasm for the cause online. Post selfies along with reusable bottles and bags on social media and tag @PlasticFreeJuly and use #choosetorefuse. Get your school, employer or place of worship on board with this campaign too.
Unfortunately, not all plastic waste is recycled responsibly. A large amount winds up in landfills or waterways. Each major ocean has its own plastic gyre of pollution due to currents that trap plastic debris in a vortex at these locations: the Great Northern Pacific gyre, the South Pacific gyre, the North Atlantic gyre, the South Atlantic gyre, and the Indian Ocean gyre.
Under the heat of the sun in the ocean, this plastic breaks down into microscopic pieces that are ingested by marine life, harming their health, and ultimately our health, by entering the food chain.
The story is no better for plastic that winds up in landfill. It can take 1,000 years to decompose while passing toxins into groundwater, soil, and streams.
The www.plasticfreejuly.org website is devoted to helping people live plastic-free lives. For example, they recommend using newspaper to line your trash bins instead of plastic bags, and even give instructions with photos showing the best method. Lists of inspirational books and first-hand stories are also available to inform and uplift.
Plastic Bag Ordinance for Oak Park
On average, Chicagoans use 500 single-use plastic bags per year, according to Alderman Joe Moreno. Most of these bags don’t wind up recycled but instead can be found in streets, waterways and landfills.
Initially, the city banned thin, single-use plastic bags in 2015, but this was deemed a failure because many businesses simply started purchasing thicker plastic bags for customer use.
On February 1, the city of Chicago, instituted a single-use bag tax (for plastic or paper) of 7 cents per bag. Within the first month, plastic and paper bag usage dropped 42% at grocery stores. The funds earned from this tax will go to educate consumers about using reusable bags.
The moral of the story? When people have to dig in their own pockets to pay for a bag, they start remembering their reusable bags.
Following Chicago’s success, the Oak Park Environment and Energy Commission recommended a similar single-use bag tax for Oak Park. The Village Board first decided to make this single-use bag tax voluntary. But a large group of local residents led by representatives of congregations in the community rallied at a Village Board meeting in May and made statements in support of a compulsory single-use bag tax. Currently, the Village Board is reconsidering their decision.
If this issue is important to you, please let board members know that you support strong action to reduce single-use plastic bags. Look for an update here about when the ordinance will be brought before the Board in August or September.