Pieces of black plastic bags plagued every landscape—including remote mountain areas—that I drove through in Pakistan.
Plastic packaging bumped against me as I snorkeled in Indonesia’s seas—always scaring the heebie-jeebies out of me and threatening to pour seawater into my snorkeling tube as I frantically fought off what I perceived as a baby octopus or a jellyfish wrapping itself around my arm or my head.
Every monsoon morning on Bali’s beaches, underpaid laborers would be out raking and then burning heaps and mounds of plastic everything—straws, food packaging, bottles, bags—that had washed up overnight with the ocean’s tide.
Marine animals that had suffered due to humanity’s irresponsibility and selfishness lay on the sand, entangled in plastic nets or stabbed with straws.
Theme for World Environment Day, June 5: #BeatPlasticPollution
As I write this, nations have gathered together in Paris to seek a global plastic treaty, an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution. The Biden administration seeks a voluntary commitment from nations—a less stringent approach.
A treaty could establish binding caps on how much plastic gets made and what chemicals get put into it. Almost all plastics are made from chemicals that come from the production of gas and oil—planet- warming fuels. The largest producer of these plastics in the U.S. is Exxon-Mobile, followed by Chevon, both of which saw their profits more than double in 2022 (2).
Every year, more than 400,000,000 metric tons of plastic is produced. Half of that is designed to be used only once, and of that half, less than 10 percent is recycled. And every year, an estimated 19-23 million metric tons ends up in our aquatic ecosystems—lakes, rivers, and oceans (3). In 2022, The Coca-Cola Company, PepsiCo and Nestlé were ranked as the world’s top plastic polluters for the 5th consecutive year according to Break Free From Plastic (4).
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP) made headlines this year, a trash vortex twice the size of Texas.
Hitched Together: Microplastics in Breast Milk, We’re Poisoning Our Families
Microplastics are made up of polyethylene, polypropylene, and polyvinyl chloride, which are part of plastic packaging. Microplastics have been found in human breast milk (5), and since plastics come from the production of gas and oil, we’re feeding our children hydrocarbons.
Who benefits and who loses from plastic pollution?
CEOs, stockholders, and politicians benefit.
Who loses? That’s a no-brainer. Since the U.S. does not have a cradle-to-grave policy for our corporate polluters (6, 7), taxpayers and individuals are left to clean up the messes and bear the financial consequences. In addition, we’re killing our aquatic fellow species.
In the U.S., some states have banned the use of single-use plastic bags. Other states and municipalities prevent stores from providing free, single-use plastic bags. But in the state of Arizona, legislators passed a bill this spring that forbids local city and county governments from banning single-use plastic bags as well as other disposable containers, saying it’s “bad for the economy.” In other words, sick children are “good” for the economy as they bring in more profits for the healthcare industry. (See Note 7 for more information on plastic bags.)
Follow the money: Once again, who do our legislators serve? Their constituents or corporations? Vote for those whose values align with yours.
When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe. – John Muir, Father of the National Parks
This World Environment Day, consider investing your energy/life into other groups who support a healing worldview for our planet. The status quo puts private profit above the common good of all humanity and our nonhuman people, and many organizations exist that challenge that.
I’ve listed several websites below under “Notes and Sources” that speak of hope, of groups fighting to change our dependence upon plastics, and how we can be a part of that change. These include Plastic Oceans International and the United Nations Environmental Programme, which has a plastic pollution prevention toolkit.
Check out the Network of Spiritual Progressives. Its second element of their proposed Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states:
“Corporations with incomes over $50 million per year have to get a new corporate charter every 5 years, which would only be granted to those that could prove a satisfactory history of environmental and social responsibility to a jury of ordinary citizens.”
World Environment Day calls us to remember Earth’s nurturing and life-giving aspects to all species human people and nonhuman people, as Potawatomi botany professor Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer reminds us in her book Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants.
Why do we mark International Days?
International days and weeks are occasions to educate the public on issues of concern, to mobilize political will and resources to address global problems, and to celebrate and reinforce achievements of humanity. For countries led by dictatorships or nepotism but whose leaders have signed onto international treaties—including the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Kyoto Protocol, and the Paris Agreement (often with no plans to implement the treaties)—these international days can provide legitimate opportunities for citizens to publicly demonstrate and defend what these treaties stand for.
Turn turtle: Flip your way of thinking, as I’ve written in my last four blogs.
See the world as alive, as interconnected. Pay attention to and watch for potentialities and possibilities. Use your creative imagination to think outside the status quo fed to us repeatedly by our politicians and CEOs. After all, they are the ones who financially benefit from the rest of us when we live as mindless consumers.
Notes & Sources:
- Posted February 8, 2023. https://www.energymonitor.ai/finance/big-oil-profits-soared-to-nearly-200bn-in-2022/
- Posted May 8, 2023. https://brandaudit.breakfreefromplastic.org/brand-audit-2022/
- “Raman Microspectroscopy Detection and Characterisation of Microplastics in Human Breastmilk.” 2022.https://www.mdpi.com/2073-4360/14/13/2700
- ‘Cradle-to-grave’ assessment considers impacts at each stage of a product’s life-cycle, from the time natural resources are extracted from the ground and processed through each subsequent stage of manufacturing, transportation, product use, and ultimately, disposal. “European Environmental Agency.” https://www.eea.europa.eu/help/glossary/eea-glossary/cradle-to-grave. Jan 30, 2023
- Jan. 27, 2023. https://www.unep.org/news-and-stories/story/plastic-treaty-progress-puts-spotlight-circular-economy
- Earth911 Newsletter Newsletter@earth911.com
- “Remove Microplastics From Your Body – 8 Steps to Start Today.” April 14, 2023.https://www.shop-without-plastic.com/blogs/swop-blog/how-to-remove-microplastics-from-your-body
- Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, says mindfulness is “paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally, to the unfolding of experience moment to moment.”
About the Author: Award-winning author Rev. Mary Coday Edwards is a Spiritual Growth Facilitator and People House Minister. A life-long student of spirituality, Mary spent almost 20 years living, working, and sojourning abroad in Asia, Southeast Asia, East Africa, and Latin America before finding her spiritual connection at People House and completing its Ministerial Program. Past studies include postgraduate studies from the University of South Africa in Theological Ethics/Ecological Justice, where she focused on the spiritual and physical interconnectedness of all things. With her MA in Environmental Studies from Boston University, abroad she worked and wrote on environmental sustainability issues at both global and local levels. In addition to working in refugee repatriation, she was an editor for international, English print, daily newspapers in Indonesia and Mexico.
#GlobalPlasticTreaty #BeatPlasticPollution #EcoSpirituality #WorldEnvironmentDay #NetworkofSpiritualProgressives #Mindfulness #IndigenousWisdom