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A Racy Proposition

It’s Time To Go Topless, Park Hill

“One word: Plastics. There’s a great future in plastics.”

– The Graduate (1967)

The 1960’s were an explosive time period of musical giants such as The Beatles, Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, Tina Turner and Jimi Hendrix and enormous tragedy with the assassination of the Kennedys, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. The 1960’s brought us Rolling Stone Magazine, The Flintstones, the Ford Mustang, Roger Maris’ 61st homerun, a walk on the moon, the mathematician Katherine Johnson and the rise of ubiquitous plastic.

It was during this time period of the 1960’s that plastics took off and began to become mainstream. Around the early 80s, plastic bags came into use and started replacing paper. Plastics are now so far-reaching that this cheap product has been found on every corner of our planet, including the bottom of the Marianas Trench, where a plastic bag was found this year.

In 1869 John Wesley Hyatt made celluloid, the first useful plastic, which became photographic film. Hyatt began creating the stuff when a New York billiards supplier ran an ad offering a payment in gold for a suitable alternative to ivory.

In the early 1900s, Leo Baekland created a new plastic by mixing phenol and formaldehyde, which became the popular plastic Bakelite. The product was used to make phones, radios, kitchen products, jewelry boxes, as well as many other items, which indeed enhanced our lives. The company’s logo was a B over an infinity sign. Yes, that’s right, this stuff is forever.

It is hard to imagine our lives without plastic. As we begin our day we may reach for a cup of coffee from our coffeemaker housed in plastic, turn on the plastic encased radio or television, utilize personal care products from plastic bottles.

We then get in our cars made of the stuff to travel to our jobs to sit behind a plastic framed monitor and keyboard. Its economical cheapness has shaped modern day life. It would be impossible to get through a day without it.

This year, effective Jan. 1, China stopped taking our plastic. Well, this is troubling but not for reasons most think. We were shipping our plastic to China? Yes, the country was importing about half of the world’s plastics and paper products. When we toss these products in our recycle bin we feel good that it will be recycled and then we forget about it.

The bottom line is that America’s addiction to plastic has to come to an end. The United States exported yearly over 1.4 million tons of plastics to China. This is our 6th largest export to the country. The ban from China could lead to bans here in the US of plastics to be recycled.

Now that a large portion of our plastics will not be recycled by China, this could actually lead to more plastics being produced at a time in which we should be working towards less. In addition, we aren’t really recycling plastic. The reality is that they are downcycled. The plastic water bottle does not become another water bottle. If recycled it can be made into a lower-quality item until it eventually can’t be recycled anymore.

We can all start by eliminating our single use of plastic items, such as the 50 billion plastic water bottles we use annually. Fully 80 percent of those end up in landfills. If each of us could start putting down single-use plastics and finding alternatives we could begin to put a dent in this problem.

According to MSLK Watershed’s project we use 17 million barrels of oil in production of bottled water every year. It takes about three liters of water and a half-liter of oil to make one liter of water. This screams insanity. If your employer told you that it is going to cost you three times as much money to work at your place of employment than you will earn, would you choose to keep working?

What can you do? Simply avoid buying items in plastic, especially single-use items. Find alternatives: buy food packaged in glass and detergents in boxes. Forgo the shopping bags at the grocery store and retailers, and fill your reusable water bottle from the tap.

Last month I wrote about the Suck the Straws campaign; this month consider participating in the Going Topless Campaign and ditch the plastic coffee lid. In fact, ditch the disposable cup and just bring your own. Say no to plastic plates and utensils. Bring your own to-go containers. Stop chewing gum; it has plastic in it. Buy in bulk.

When single-use plastics are unavoidable, research TerraCycle for collection programs in your area. Let’s start some collection centers around our neighborhood.

In the words of Vice President Al Gore, must we change? Can we change? Will we change? I say, YES!

The future is in our ability to change, not plastics. I believe in human ingenuity and our inherent desire to leave the next generation a better place. Go topless, Park Hill.

Tracey MacDermott is chair of the board of Greater Park Hill Community, Inc. Active in the Registered Neighborhood Organization for many years, MacDermott was the 2012 recipient of the Dr. J. Carlton Babbs Award for Community Service. This year she received an INC Neighborhood Star Award, for her advocacy on behalf of Park Hill. She was trained as a Climate Reality Leader in 2017.

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