Plastic Waste May Be the End of Us

Zaneta J Smith
Sep 8 · 3 min read

The other morning I picked up a newly purchased box of plastic trash bags and felt bad. When did I get away from using biodegradable trash bags? What happened to my commitment to the environment?

It all happened when I moved to a community that no longer recycled. For years, I have lived in communities with blue trash cans (blue is for recycled and recyclable items). I attended public grade schools that held campaigns screaming, ‘recycle, reduce, reuse.’ I grew up in a house that always had a separate trash can for items that could be re-used or re-cycled. It seems I just got lazy.

Due to California recent bills (AB792, AB1080, SB 54), 20/20 television specials, and LA Times articles, I am reminded that plastic is slowly killing the environment and apparently, not as slowly as I thought.

CA discards over 120,000 tons of plastic bags each year. Many of the bags land in the ocean where the toxins are released in the water and sea life consumes the plastic (Environment California, year unknown). If you are like me and a lover of seafood, I can’t help but wonder if my wild-caught salmon ingested plastic before landing on my plate.

Van Jones, at TEDxGreatPacificGarbagePatch, so eloquently reminds us of class and environmental justice. Thanks to the opportunities that my college and graduate school degrees have afforded me, I am in an economic bracket that provides me with choices.. I can afford to buy glass bottles of water, biodegradable trash bags, and reusable plastic containers. Many people of color in California have limited choices. They shop where plastic bags are distributed. Many of the affordable food items are packaged in single-use plastic containers and they can find a slew of plastic trash in their street drains and local parks.

Cal Matters reported earlier this year that China has tightened the ability to send paper and plastic to their country. This means that we have to figure out some way to store our trash. This is driving up costs for companies such as ePlanet who collects beverage and soda cans. Cal Matters reported over 200 ePlanet collection centers closed across California due to decreased subsidies and the rising costs of distributing trash versus paying consumers to recycle.

A poll conducted by FM3 in 2016 surveyed 1,200 respondents of color (Latino, African-American, Asian or Pacific Islander, Native American or some other non-white ethnicity) and reported that “Sixty-eight percent of respondents report seeing plastic pollution in their parks, streets, and neighborhoods.” In addition, more than three quarters of those surveyed saw plastic as a key environmental issue.

A 2018 Forbes article by GrrlScientist reminds us that plastic lasts forever and that this is a gift and a curse. The curse: it never decomposes. It will stay in the park and live in the ocean forever. The gift: companies are being founded to solve the issue and repurposing plastic. Check out Filabot and Mango Materials.

There are three bills in CA fighting this issue: AB792, AB1080, and SB54. The former attempts to require companies to manufacture plastic so that it is 75% recyclable by 2030. AB1080 and SB54 are attempting to eliminate single use plastic that is not recyclable.

Keep watching these bills. We can all work toward creating a healthier environment. Remember: “Recycle, reduce, reuse…and close the loop.”

Zaneta J Smith

Written by

Coordinates operations of an African American civic engagement & public opinion research organization, the California Policy & Research Initiative.

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