The scourge of plastics discussed in local forum

On Thursday, Aug. 29, I attended a forum at the Rocky River Public Library titled "Plastic Pollution: Is it the Next Burning River?" The forum was co-sponsored by the League of Women Voters (LWV) of Greater Cleveland, Rocky River Public Library, Sierra Club, Surfrider Foundation, the Rocky River Green Team and the Bay Village Green Team.

Jocelyn Travis of the LWV and Sierra Club moderated the forum and there were five panelists: Cheryl Johncox, Sierra Club Ohio; Sunny Simon, District 11 Cuyahoga County Council; Sarah Damron, Surfrider Foundation; Sarah Mathews, Rumpke Waste; and Cristie Snyder, Cuyahoga County Solid Waste District.

Questions from the public had been taken online before the event, and the forum started out with those. Many questions pertained to our current state of recycling. Cristie Snyder reiterated that plastics are a commodity and the market for those have all but collapsed, which has been a problem worldwide.

China is no longer buying our recycling, and that has sent every country on earth scrambling to find out where to recycle plastics. This is the reason that only plastic bottles and jugs can now be placed into recycling locally – there is still a market for clean plastic bottles and jugs (items with a neck narrower than the body).

Cristie also reiterated that “wishful recycling” is a still a big problem because people want to recycle more, but that is actually hurting recycling because it contaminates the load. Please do not put plastic items in the recycling unless it is a plastic bottle or jug. I hate to say it but these days you should remember “when in doubt, throw it out.”

Cheryl Johncox of the Sierra Club talked about the plastics industry building new plastic plants in the Ohio River Valley. Plastic can be made from crude oil or from cracking ethane which is a similar process to hydraulic fracturing or “fracking.” These ethane-cracker plants will manufacture the building blocks of single-use plastics called “nurdles.” Nurdles are small plastic pellets that get turned into items such as plastic water bottles.

According to Cheryl, there are multiple ethane-cracker plants proposed for Ohio and, like fracking, ethane cracking utilizes a lot of water and releases a lot of toxins into nearby communities and water sources. Ethane cracking also produces waste water that is highly radioactive and toxic and demands new wells to be created to store the waste water. I was not aware of all of this going on in Ohio and the Ohio River Valley and it is alarming.

The next topic discussed was Ohio House Bill 242. I have written about this bill and it is time again to contact Representative Dave Greenspan to oppose it. HB242 is “ban the ban” bill that will strip cities and counties in Ohio of the right to pass their own laws about what is good for them, such as the plastic bag ban that passed in Cuyahoga County and will go into effect on Jan. 1. Stripping the rights of local municipalities is driven by big business (such as the plastics industry) and is unconstitutional.

When the Ohio legislature is back from break in September, they will be voting on this. Please contact Rep. Greenspan to let him know that you oppose this measure. He has already unfortunately voted in favor of it in committee, but he has a chance to redeem himself by voting no when it is decided on the House floor. His number is 614-466-0961. If it passes, it is irreversible.

There was much discussion about other simple ideas and ways that each of us can help, such as taking steps to reduce our individual use of single-use items. Please remember that recycling is the last step. First, we can refuse the item. Drinking from a water bottle for 10 minutes that will last on earth for thousands and thousands of years is absurd and each of us can say no to that. If it is not possible for you to avoid the single-use item, you can choose then to reuse the item. Recycling should be the last choice.

A statistic that surprised me was one mentioned by Cheryl in which she said that 50% of the plastics that are on earth today have been made since 2013! That is how much plastic production has ramped up in the last decade and how out of control it is. We as individuals may feel there is not much we can do, but that is not true. Refusing single-use items and avoiding plastic whenever possible will help – you will make a difference.

In fact, I read recently that many large hotel chains such as Marriott have started phasing out the small plastic toiletry bottles provided in rooms and are moving toward bottle dispensers installed in the showers. Make no mistake, these decisions are being driven by consumers and our heightened awareness of the plastic problem. We do make a difference! Keep talking to managers or owners of stores and restaurants in which you shop and eat and let them know you care about reducing and stopping plastic waste. 

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Volume 11, Issue 17, Posted 9:50 AM, 09.04.2019