Hope. That was one of the main messages of a GreenTown-sponsored talk on “Ocean Plastics: Circular Economy and Green Chemistry Solutions” on Wed., Jan 23 at the Los Altos Library.
Julie Noblitt, a long-time advocate for reducing plastic waste, and the Energy and Climate Director of Acterra, a Palo-Alto based regional environmental organization, presented facts on plastic waste, the dire state of the oceans, and offered a glimmer of hope.
The crux of Julie’s talk was to highlight, not only what we can do as individuals to address the problem of rampant plastic waste, but what companies and creative entrepreneurs are doing to help mitigate the problem.
In addition, Cambria Bartlett, a 14 year-old youth advocate active with the organization Heir to Our Oceans spoke about the work of their organization in educating people and policymakers about sustainable alternatives. If you don’t know about them, you should.
Julie highlighted a few big solutions that she is watching evolve.
Good alternatives to plastic
More and more bioplastics, plant-based plastics and edible/degradable substitutes are becoming available. Examples include styrofoam substitutes made out of mushrooms, from Ecovative and straws made out of marine-edible seaweed, from Loliware. In addition, we can return to paper for some uses. For example, good quality paper straws are now available from Aardvark and other manufacturers.
Dealing with existing plastics
Let’s talk about our clothing – 40 percent of clothing is plastic. When these plastics are washed, microfibers are released into our waterways. The CoraBall, can be thrown in with the laundry to collect these fibers before they go out in the wash water and into our waterways. Adidas has found an answer, teaming with Parley, to create shoes and jerseys made of plastics collected from the ocean.
Julie also described her own journey in reducing plastic in her life.
She started with declining single-use plastics, such as bags and water bottles, and reducing any packaging waste that she could by considering packaging before she purchases and by bringing her own containers, e.g., reusable water bottles, coffee mugs, and takeout containers. Her last ziploc bags were purchased about 10 years ago; she continues to wash and reuse them–a sorry testament to their staying-power in the environment. The good news is reducing package waste is getting easier with zero waste stores cropping up. Sprouts Market (locally) and Rainbow Market (San Francisco) carry a wide range of bulk or package-free items.
In addition to reducing your personal waste, you can make your voice heard. Let legislators know that you are concerned about the impacts of single-use plastics on the planet. Advocate for policies that support waste reduction at the source. Legislation that works, includes bag and styrofoam bans–currently in effect here in Los Altos–and extended producer responsibility, that require companies to take-back packaging that comes with things sold in their stores.
GreenTown has been working to combat plastic pollution in our community. Through our Skip the Straw initiative, we encourage local restaurants to offer straws only on request and offer paper (not plastic) straws, when requested. GreenTown volunteers got a boost in January 2019, when state legislation went into effect requiring dine-in restaurants to offer straws only on request (though they can offer plastic straws). The committee’s focus shifted to informing restaurants about the new legislation and offering paper straw alternatives for restauranteurs to test.
Thus far, Tom’s Depot, Pompeii Restaurant, Cafe Vitale, Amber India (for some drinks), and the Drive-Up Coffee Shop are offering straws on request and/or offering only paper straws. In addition, we have new recommendations for recycling thin plastics at store drop-off locations (such as at Safeway, Lucky and Draegers) to avoid these items going to the landfill and we are working on identifying the best markets for a zero-waste.
Additional resources and ideas mentioned at the talk
The GreenTown Waste Reduction Team has information to help you go plastic-free as well as ways to get involved. For more info, email us.