As plastics continue to pollute our oceans, our cities and even our bodies, Judith Enck has a lot to say about what we can do to rectify this.
Students, faculty and community members filled the seats in Lecture Center 102 on Tuesday, March 3 to attend a free talk on plastic pollution by Enck, the founder of Beyond Plastics and former regional administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Enck gave the talk to a room full of climate activists, which commenced with the realities we are facing as a society built on plastic-use. She highlighted the student ambassadors at the event, and asked important questions of the audience to ensure individuals were accurately informed.
“We can’t solve the climate change problem without solving the plastic pollution problem,” Enck said.
Various forms of plastic permeate our society, such as plastic bags, straws and polystyrene, which Enck refers to as “the plastic trifecta.” This trifecta all relies on single-use plastic, which individuals use for only around 20 minutes, but status in our environment for centuries.
Enck’s goal with calling out the sale of these plastics is to hopefully lead to legislation that bans all three. The website Beyondplastics.comoffers examples of how to write effective bill language that will pass legislation to ban the trifecta in one fell swoop.
Another key point of Enck’s lecture is that this use of plastic is not at the fault of the consumer, since consumers don’t have a real choice on whether or not to stop using plastic for a variety of reasons, including financial challenges and lack of availability to alternatives.
Plastic is cheaper to make and buy than many alternatives, which leads companies to continue its usage.
Enck’s discussion of this nuanced aspect of the plastic problem points to a larger issue as well. That climate issues are also class issues, race issues and political issues.
Ethane cracker plants were also discussed, which are “industrial facilities that create the building blocks for plastics manufacturing. They also create air pollution that harms our health and makes climate change worse,” according to momscleanairforce.org. Enck described how these plants are usually placed in low-income communities, or communities of color.
The lecture, accompanied by an informative powerpoint, included educational statistics that put the overwhelming plastic pollution in perspective.
“8.8 million tons of plastics enter our oceans every year, and by 2025, for every three pounds of fish, there will be one pound of plastics,” Enck said. “There are twice as many microplastics in bottled water than in tap water.”
There are some ways to combat the use of plastics in everyday life, which Enck explained can look like source separation recycling, achieved by separating materials by type so they can be recycled. She explained that source-separation is more helpful than single-stream recycling because only certain plastics — such as level one, two and five — can be properly recycled, and these are not separated within single-stream recycling.
Unfortunately, Enck made it clear that we cannot recycle our way out of this problem. To end the lecture, she discussed which laws are helping to ban these harmful plastics and how to get involved. She endorsed Senate Bill S. 3263 and House Bill H.R. 5845 Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act of 2020, sponsored by Senator [Tom] Udal [D-NM] and Rep Lowenthal [D-CA-47], respectively, and encouraged audience members to call their senators and representatives to co-sponsor these bills.
After the lecture, Campus Auxiliary Services (CAS) and the Sustainability Ambassadors of the Office of Campus Sustainability hosted a student open forum on the future of single-use plastics at SUNY New Paltz.
During this forum, the panel discussed that this spring, the Board of Directors of CAS is seeking a vendor for beverage and vending for SUNY New Paltz to begin in August 2020. Some questions that arose considered offering aluminum canned beverages instead of plastic containers, and the cost of that switch. Panelists also thought about what alternatives to single-use plastics in dining could be available to CAS, such as compostable servingware. This part of the event featured members of the Student Association and the Residence Hall Student Association.
To get involved, students were encouraged to follow Beyond Plastics on social media @beyondplasticsbennington, as well as Sustainable New Paltz @sustainablenewpaltz to keep up with events and information.