You may have read about, or may have seen it on the news, about an island of trash floating in the Pacific Ocean that is the size of Texas, or even larger. At the same time, you may be driving down the road and see the ubiquitous yellow plastic bags, or the more prevalent white bags. The recent pandemic has led to skyrocketing of single-use plastic plates and dinnerware, so we have plastic everywhere and a large percent of it ends up in the ocean.
A paltry 9% of plastic is recycled, so the recent ads by the soft drink industry, while helpful, are misleading about their reuse of plastic. Coca-Cola has set a goal of reducing its use of virgin plastic by 20%, and Pepsico has set a goal of using 100% recycled plastic by 2024. However, in spite of those goals, Coke is the top plastic polluter in the world. As reported in DeZeen, Feb. 28, 2021: “For three years in a row, thousands of volunteers have collected more Coca-Cola-branded waste from more places than any other brand during the annual Brand Audit cleanups.” Recently, Tahlequah Downtown and the CoC had a clean-up day and our “team” cleaned the alley behind Braum’s. I can attest to the presence of many, many discarded soft drink cans, bottles and cups.
You may have also read about the camel that died with 21 plastic bags in its stomach or the whale that had almost 90 pounds of plastic trash in its stomach! it died, too!. The point is, we are being buried in trash, particularly plastic trash. If you dig into the matter, you find that plastic bags are light, easy to produce and “recyclable” – only 1%-3% are recycled – so they are easy to transport and make; hence they have become ubiquitous. Paper bags are heavier and so cost more to transport and use more fuel to deliver, and while recyclable, they, too, often are not recycled and end up in a landfill. Both plastic and paper, as they degrade, give off methane gas, a significant greenhouse gas.
So, is there a solution? Can I do something to help with this problem? Yes, we can all make a difference! I heard yesterday that Walmart is going to begin the process of discontinuing the use of plastic bags. In fact, it has already started pilot projects at many locations. In the meantime, you can help now and get ahead of the curve. There are many very simple alternatives, such as reusable bags, that you can get at most stores now, as well as some that are lightweight and foldable to fit in a purse or pocket. An alternative I use often, if I’m just getting a few items, is to carry the items without a bag. Imagine that: using your hands and arms to carry three or four items. Believe me, it’s easy!
There are also recycling alternatives right here in Tahlequah. The city of Tahlequah has a recycling center out at the solid waste dump, right next door, that takes paper, plastic, metal cans and cardboard, but does not take glass. Walmart already has a plastic bag recycling bin where you can return your bags. Alternatively, you can reuse the bags or repurpose them as trash bags. I recommend keeping one in your car for trash that you can then dispose of properly, not toss out the window.
Cherokee County is beautiful country, but has lots of litter along our roadways. Please, do your part and stash your trash! Don’t lay that trash on Oklahoma!
Robert Lee is a retired social worker with interests in history and politics. He lives in Tahlequah.