Plastic is one of the biggest threats facing our planet today. Some have likened its severity to that of climate change, and the two are, in fact, closely interlinked. And just like the impacts of climate change, many of the communities bearing the biggest burden of our plastic pollution crisis are communities of color in the United States and poor countries around the world.
Plastic is killing us, our wildlife, and this planet, all while some of the biggest companies on Earth accumulate more and more wealth. Many of the companies most responsible for the climate crisis are the same companies responsible for flooding our planet with a wave of unnecessary plastic – think ExxonMobil, Shell, Chevron Phillips, and Saudi Aramco.
What's the problem with plastic?
It Exacerbates Climate Change Plastic is one of the most significant and fastest growing sources of industrial greenhouse gas emissions throughout its lifecycle. Plastic production already accounts for 8% of the world's fossil fuel use, and by 2050, the global plastic footprint is projected to be equivalent to 615 coal fired power plants running at full capacity, making up 13% of the total “carbon budget.”
It Disproportionately Impacts Communities of Color The US has a history of deep racial disparities in exposure to environmental hazards. Chemical plants are typically located predominantly in poor African American communities, like the industrial plants that have lined "Cancer Alley" in the Gulf Coast. Major fires at petrochemical plants can force tens of thousands of people to evacuate to escape the carcinogenic air, and African Americans are three times more likely than white people to die from pollution.
It's an Environmental Disaster The equivalent of one garbage truck worth of plastic enters the ocean every minute, and plankton – the basis of the marine food web – have been documented consuming microplastics. Over 100,000 marine animals and more than one million sea birds die from plastic pollution annually. Over 260 species, including invertebrates, turtles, fish, seabirds and mammals, have been reported to ingest or become entangled in plastic debris.
It Endangers Human Health Plastic is in in the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, and constitutes a significant and growing threat to human health at every stage of its lifecycle. Plastic packaging has been found to contain thousands of chemicals, including at least 148 highly hazardous substances. Toxic chemicals leach out of plastic and are found in the blood and tissue of nearly all people. Exposure to many of the chemicals added to plastic are linked to cancers, birth defects, impaired immunity, and endocrine disruption.
Production is Expected to Dramatically Increase The petrochemical industry has invested over $200 billion dollars to build or expand over 330 new petrochemical facilities in the United States alone, enough to put 40% more plastic in commerce by 2025. Petrochemicals used to make up a small part of oil and gas industry's bottom line, but as the world slowly transitions away from fossil fuels, the oil and gas industry is looking to plastics to make up for lost revenue. In a recent growth report, ExxonMobil executives assured shareholders that the company could offset losses from the transition to electric cars with growth in petrochemicals.
It Never Goes Away Our plastic waste will outlive us. Plastic never really goes away – it just breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces, making it easier for wildlife, plants, and people to ingest. It also acts as a magnet for toxic chemicals in the environment. Microplastics have already been found throughout the globe – at the bottom of the Marianas Trench, in Antarctica, and falling out of the sky in Rocky Mountain National Park and the Pyrenees.
How are we addressing the plastic crisis?
State and Federal Policy We work to pass policies that limit plastic production and pollution at the federal, state, and local levels. We track state and federal plastic pollution legislation and work with communities to ban single-use plastic. We testify and write letters of support to legislative leaders and provide our supporters opportunities to reach out to their legislators about key plastic policies.
Scientific Studies We started a Microplastics Working Group in 2017 with the University of Colorado and other research institutions to study microplastics in Colorado’s Front Range waterways. After a pilot study in 2017, our team took over 300 samples in 2019 from rivers along the Front Range to develop best practices for microplastic sampling in rivers and creeks. We are analyzing the data and hope such widespread evidence of microplastics can help inform policies for addressing microplastics in Colorado and other states.
Break Free From Plastic As a founding member of Break Free From Plastic, we work within a larger movement to reduce plastic production and use, advocate for zero waste cities and policies, stop the petrochemical industry buildout in the US, and hold major consumer packaging brands accountable for the unmanageable amounts of plastic waste they are creating.
Campaigns Our Suck the Straws Out campaign is an educational initiative to decrease the use of plastic and bioplastic straws. It encourages restaurants, bars, businesses, and other establishments to only offer reusable or paper straws upon request. Suck the Straws Out reduces plastic use locally, but perhaps more importantly, it raises awareness about the larger plastic issue and gets people thinking about the other unnecessary plastic they use.
Outreach and Education An educated and engaged constituency is key to stopping the flood of plastic devastating our planet. Through our chapters across the country, we educate communities about plastic pollution and provide the tools and training needed to be part of the solution. We train volunteers through our Ocean Ambassador and Ocean Ranger programs and host events to raise awareness about plastic pollution, including documentary film screenings, panel discussions, and presentations at schools and universities.
Creek Cleanups Our chapters around the country hold creek, beach, and community cleanups throughout the year to reduce plastic pollution. While we can't keep cleaning up forever and the only way to truly deal with plastic pollution is to turn off the plastic tap, cleaning up our communities reduces the amount of plastic in our environment and ensures that bigger plastics don't break down into microplastics, which are easier for wildlife to ingest.
Enough is enough. We do not need more single-use plastic choking our planet and poisoning our communities. We do not need new petrochemical facilities built, locking us into a future we do not want.
Not on our watch. Will you join us today with a small monthly contribution to support our work fighting for a future free of plastic pollution? A future that is fair, just, and that will not bear the scars of the toxic burden we have placed on this planet? A future free from plastic in our waterways, our ocean, our air, and our bodies?
Will you join us in working to turn off the plastic pollution tap? Every dollar helps, and just $5 or $10 makes a difference.
Help us build a world free of plastic pollution.
Join Us Today! Ocean Climate Webinar: Plastic Pollution
We're excited to announce that we're co-hosting a webinar series with the Healthy Oceans Coalition (HOC) highlighting the intersections between climate change, the ocean, and society.
Join us for our inaugural webinar today from 3-4pm PT/6–7pm ET! We will host an interactive dialogue about the plastic pollution crisis with the following expert panelists:
In addition to joining us on July 30th, we encourage you to join the global movement to break free from plastic by signing your name in support of the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act. This bold federal legislation was introduced by U.S. Senator Tom Udall (NM) and U.S. Representative Alan Lowenthal (CA-47) to tackle the plastic pollution crisis.
We welcome you to share this invitation with your colleagues, community, and networks either by forwarding this email, sharing this Facebook post, Tweet, or registration link and hope to see you there!
Inland Ocean Coalition
The Inland Ocean Coalition is a project of The Ocean Foundation, a 501(c)(3)