Sunday, April 1, 2012

With Even Paper Currency Going Plastic, How Are We Going to Finally Stop the Toxic, Fossil-Fueled Plastic Pollution Madness?

Well...By Supporting Groups like the NRDC, The 5 Gyres Institute, Trashpatch and the Plastic Pollution Coalition & By Doing Something About the Problem

by Paul E. McGinniss

Image courtesy Man Man and NYC-based artist Man Man uses waste plastic to provoke and raise awareness about plastic pollution. Click on Image Above to Make Larger and See Details.

With massive amounts of plastic washing up in remote places from the Arctic to the Amazon and with tons and tons of this fossil-fuel-based substance being thrown out daily and not recycled, why has it taken so long for society at large to wake up and stop the madness? (And, the true depth and extent of plastic pollution IS madness.)

Photo Mario Bollini via Flickr.

Luckily, there are some smart, passionate people that are MAD enough to try and figure out how to get off non-renewable plastic and clean up the existing mess. Last week I experienced a two day whirlwind of inspiration courtesy Anna Cummins and Dr. Marcus Eriksen, co-founders of the 5 Gyres Institute. Anna and Marcus gave a great presentation on the gyres of plastic floating throughout our oceans at a Green Drinks NYC SPARK event. I was fortunate enough to guest host the event at the TOTO Showroom in SOHO. TOTO was an appropriate venue for the company has been at the leading edge of Corporate Social Responsibility by reducing its energy and waste footprint. (TOTO also manufactures efficient and elegant low-flow sinks, toilets and plumbing fixtures.)

Luky Ng from TOTO, Anna Cummins & Marcus Eriksen of 5 Gyres Institute and Lenora Campos, TOTO. (left to right) Photo Courtesy Luky Ng, TOTO U.S.A.

My crash course on the plastic problem with Anna and Marcus ended with an amazing panel organized by the NRDC called "Global Call to End Plastic Pollution". This energizing event took place at the United Nations in NYC and was moderated by the fantastic, passionate Kyra Sedgwick. The panel was a lead up to the United Nations Rio + 20 conference in June where the problems of plastic pollution will be addressed.

Kyra Sedgwick at NRDC's U.N. panel, "Global Call to End Plastic Pollution". Photo Courtesy The New York Green Advocate.

The illustrious panel of concerned advocates included Dr. Marcus Eriksen, Leila Monroe from the NRDC (event coordinator), Dr. Lev Neretin, The United Nations Environment Programme, Jimena Leiva Roesch, Third Secretary, Mission of Guatemala to the UN, Suja Lowenthal, Vice Mayor of Long Beach and Tom De Blasis, Design Innovation Director, Nike Foundation. At the conclusion of the panel, a group of us all piled out of the U.N. and sat down for a meal together. We talked and shared ideas and contacts, inspired we could work together somehow, some way, to foster the changes we need to make.

Leila Monroe from the NRDC and Tom De Blasis, Design Innovation Director, Nike Foundation at U.N. Panel, "Global Call to End Plastic Pollution". Photo Courtesy The New York Green Advocate.

Just as I was coming down from the down-with-plastic activist high, I read an article in the MIT Technology Review entitled "Here Comes the Plastic Money". I thought to myself, WOW!! Just as more and more of us are using metal water bottles, reusable bags and refusing plastic as much as humanly possible, even good old paper money has to go plastic. Even when you want to not "use plastic" to pay for things, well, the cash alternative is now plastic as well! Well, we all want our money to last forever, don't we. Now, maybe it will, even if it is in someone else's pocket.

Picture of Canadian Currency Made out of a plastic polymer. Just as we start to try and figure out how to reduce use of toxic plastics, currencies across the world are going plastic. So, are all our banknotes now literally dirty money?

Maybe having plastic currency makes perfect sense considering how much plastic is caught up in ocean currents and the fact that most modern economies are completely dependent on the fossil fuels that comprise plastic. The whole world, from inner cities to remote islands, is awash in plastic. Even our own human bloodstreams contain traces of toxic chemicals including fire retardants and the plastic-hardening chemical BPA used commonly in plastic liners throughout the food industry.

A witty scientist I met at the U.N. panel who studies plastic responded when I asked her about paper currency being replaced by plastic: "I love the symbolism, don't you? Our cash economy is toxic and artificial..plastic as the currency of (ersatz) appropriate."

Photo By Chris Jordan. Taken in the Midway Islands, near the Pacific Ocean trash gyre. Marine life, including birds and fish, are mistaking plastic for food. Plastic is even becoming part of the human food chain as sea life harvested for consumption eats and absorbs plastic particles.

So, what is to be done? Well, basically, start by getting up off your butt and being proactive. And, do what for instance? How about give up using plastic water bottles. And, buy products from socially responsible companies that reduce waste and are cutting down on packaging. Eat more fresh, local products that are not packaged in bottles, cans, or swaddled in layers of plastic and styrofoam. Recycle everything, even if you think it ends up NOT being recycled on the macro level.

And, be inspired. How? Well, check out some of the amazing organizations and people in this blog post.

Plastic Pollution Coalition, NRDC, 5 Gyres Institute, Trashpatch, Green Drinks NYC.

Link to them. Tweet about them. Connect to them on Facebook. See what they are doing. Support them. Send money. Join an expedition. Read their newsletters and make comments. Clean up a beach. Pick up the trash on the roads of your community. Tell someone (nicely) when they throw out something recyclable in front of you, it is not acceptable. Tell them we can do better. We need to recycle and pay attention to our own garbage as a beginning point for change.

Photo by Chris Jordan. Depicts two million plastic bottles, the amount used every 5 minutes in the U.S.

If Marshall McLuhan was right and the medium really is the message, then we are the medium. Because what we do and do not do, that is the message.

Despite our bloodstreams and the world water ways and land masses being awash in non-renewable, fossil-fuel-based materials, we are also awash in new possibilities and solutions. Kyra Sedgwick, speaking at the United Nations last week, said she was "obsessed with waste". Clearly, she is not resting on her laurels and she is doing something about it. And, Marcus Eriksen, upon discovering how much plastic was disrupting the health of our oceans, echoed: "If I turned away and did nothing, I was part of the problem."

Kyra Sedgwick and Dr. Marcus Eriksen at NRDC's U.N. panel, "Global Call to End Plastic Pollution". Photo Courtesy The New York Green Advocate.

Copyright 2012 Paul E. McGinniss

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