WNC Climate Action Coalition

“Nature never did betray the heart that loved her.” — William Wordsworth, 1798

This month is Plastic Free July, a perfect time to conserve for the sake of your health as well as all creation. One way to do this is to bring your own bag (BYOB) every place, every time you shop.

The problem

According to Waste Management Inc., only 1% of plastic bags are returned for recycling, meaning the average family only recycles 15 bags a year. Not even blue “recycling bags” are recycled. Families in Haywood County are probably like the average American family, taking home about 1,500 plastic shopping bags a year. Bags are used for an average of 12 minutes but take at least 500 years to decompose. That process does more damage.

Plastics don’t break down completely; instead, they photo-degrade, becoming microplastics. Microplastics absorb toxins, continue polluting, and damage the health of people and other living creatures. See the PBS.org Frontline documentary on our pollution crisis and the fossil industry’s push to sell more: “The Plastic Wars.”

Chemicals in plastics or used in their manufacture pose a serious human health risk. Recent research confirms that exposure to a component called BPA lowers men’s sperm counts. Plastics also contribute to women’s infertility, increased diabetes in fetuses, birth defects and miscarriages. See “Plastics, Plastics Everywhere! Should We Be Worried?” by Steve Wall, M.D., pediatrician, in The Mountaineer, April 23, 2021.

About 46,000 pieces of floating plastic clog every square mile of ocean. Most it enters from land. Plastics kill millions of animals every year, from birds to freshwater fish to marine organisms. Nearly 700 species, including the most endangered, are being driven toward extinction. To survive, we humans need those species to keep ecosystems healthy.

Burning plastic, made from fossil fuels, releases greenhouse gases that heat the air, making extreme weather worse and more frequent. The current tragedies from wildfires and record heat waves in the Northwest U.S. are typical of the levels of suffering that can eventually engulf us all unless we change our ways. Remember the wildfires in eastern Tennessee and here in WNC a few years ago? People died.

North Carolinians have to pay the bill for plastic-related medical problems and maintaining plastics landfills. Officials in Madison County reported spending as much on solid waste management as on public education. Haywood County has three times as many residents as Madison.

Be part of the solution, starting now:

The answer lies not in recycling, but avoiding plastics to the extent possible. BYOB! Bring your own bags to all stores, shops and markets.

When: Always

Where: Everywhere

RSVP: Invite family and friends to join you during Plastic Free July.

Win-win-win:

• Tax savings if landfill space is reduced

• More money for education and other efforts to improve standards of living

• Your improved human health and conservation of our fellow creatures

What you can do:

• When you cannot avoid plastic bags or packaging materials, take them to grocery or other store recycling bins. Even bags used to package vegetables, bread, and other food might be accepted. Any clean bag labeled #2 or #4 is recyclable.

• Stash washable cloth bags in your car so you’re ready whenever you shop. Buy and take mesh bags for fresh produce, too. See Judy Covin’s Triple-win article in The Mountaineer, Oct. 4, 2020.

• Ask stores to sell or give away reusable bags with their logos for advertising.

• Ask stores without recycling bins to add them. Publix, Lowe’s and Wal-Mart already provide bins.

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