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Thursday
July 18th, 2019

earl watt mugL&T Publisher Earl Watt

 

When some tournaments were rescheduled for my daughters recently, a window opened up for a quick trip to California to visit Disneyland and the presidential libraries of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan as well as a stop by the Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam and Las Vegas.

Before anyone complains about gas prices, take a trip to California. From Albuquerque West prepare to pay at least $1 per gallon more. Some places in Anaheim were more than $4 per gallon.

One of the major moves at some locations out West include attempts to reduce the use of consumable plastic.

I actually support this effort after speaking with Mike Tabor recently in Salina. Mike operates the landfill in that area after doing a remarkable job of operating the landfill here, turning it into a revenue generator for Seward County.

He told me that more than 80 percent of the items in the landfill are plastic.

That should be of a concern to all of us. Plastic doesn’t break down like paper and wood. It will last for hundreds if not thousands of years, taking up space in the landfills across the planet.

I started to think about the plastic items we use on a daily basis, and it was staggering. Cups, bottles, laundry detergent containers, food packaging, spoons, forks, knives, shopping bags, snack packages, and the list goes on and on of the plastic we use and throw away each day.

How can we cut back on the use of consumable plastics?

As is typical of those who believe they are environmentally conscious, they did something about it in California but in the smallest of ways.

They went after the plastic straw.

True enough, plastic straws contribute as an easy throw-away consumable plastic.

According to phys.org, it takes 67 straws to equal one ounce, and about 2,000 tons of straws reach the oceans each year.

But that is just a drop in the bucket of the 9 million tons of plastic that reaches the oceans each year.

While it takes 67 straws to equal an ounce, it only takes a little more than two Solo cups to equal the same weight.

While we had drinks out of cups in California, with paper straws, the cups and lids were still plastic as was much of the other consumables.

The first couple of times the straw was a bit uncomfortable, but it soon just became a straw. Obviously they broke down over time, but for the most part, there was no major difference.

The problem to me was we were putting paper straws into plastic cups with plastic lids. We still purchased other food items in plastic bags.

Attacking the plastic straw may be noble, but it is a tiny piece of a much bigger puzzle in dealing with the amount of plastic waste we are all using, and believing to have made a significant impact by outlawing plastic straws is just silly.

Of course, there is the conundrum of replacing plastic straws with paper straws.

While paper is biodegradable, it wasn’t long ago that environmentalists were looking to reduce paper usage when the world’s forests were disappearing.

We are sensitive to that, as well, especially for those of you reading this on a printed sheet of paper.

The company we use to supply paper actually operates with tree farms and with recycled content. More trees have been planted by our industry in the past three decades than have been harvested, so newspapers are actually increasing the tree supply.

But will that conservation effort be lost in an effort to reduce plastic and return to paper products?

Will what we’ve gained in the newspaper industry be erased in more paper straws and possibly cups? I don’t know how they will solve the lid dilemma.

What seems like the bigger challenge is all the items we purchase in plastic containers that could be reused.

How many plastic milk containers are thrown away?

What about bottles of detergents, soaps and more?

Why aren’t we developing a reusable system for many of these items? It seems it would reduce costs for the manufacturer as well as reduce the amount of plastic being thrown away on a daily basis.

I’m still amazed at the number of aluminum cans that are produced and thrown away, and yet we haven’t run out of aluminum.

And we won’t run out of platic, either, but we may run out of places to put it if it makes up 80 percent of all refuse at the landfill.

While the coasts may be making this mandatory, we should start looking at ways we can voluntarily reduce our plastic usage.

After all, a war on the most lightweight plastic item we use — the straw — won’t solve the problem even if it makes some feel better about it.

Until forests once again become endangered, we should consider paper alternatives where possible.

And when we can, we need to consider reusing plastic containers as much as possible.

We need to push our producers to find other distribution methods that do not rely so heavily on one-use plastic jugs and containers. Even glass should be considered as a viable reusable option.

We may be as far away from an ocean as anyone can possibly get, but the problem is not just the amount of plastic that makes its way into the world’s waters. That is bad, for sure, and obviously harmful to aquatic life.

Our problem will become landfills full of plastic.

We will never completely eliminate plastic. It is a durable product that has changed our way of life.

But the focus should be on those daily items we throw away.

Are some states helping by eliminating the use of plastic straws? In a very tiny way, yes.

But the war on plastic straws was easy, and that’s why they chose it. Politicians could look like they are taking the lead by eliminating the smallest plastic item.

With the focus on issues like climate change, real environmental discussions aren’t getting the public attention they need, and our heavy use of plastic deserves a real discussion so that real solutions can be considered.

While it is debatable about the human contribution to the planet’s temperature, it is undeniable that 80 percent of our waste is plastic.

We should be discussing those types of issues, and barely cutting the use of plastic straws won’t solve the issue.

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