Plastic Free July is an initiative of the Plastic Free Foundation that envisions a world free of plastic waste. From humble beginnings in 2011, now millions of people across the globe take part every year, with many committing to reducing plastic pollution beyond the month of July. This movement is Australian based, so their July is mid-winter. 

For those in the Northern Hemisphere, July is the height of travel, picnic and beach season. All are fraught with choices for packing and picking up food, corralling wet clothes, sipping drinks in containers to go and more. These are options where the petrochemical industry would prefer you to buy and see the use once and toss products that keep them in business. 

You may be driving a hybrid or electric car, or opting for public transportation, a bike or walking to avoid using excessive petroleum. You may have insulted your house, installed LED lights and have solar panels on your roof to reduce your carbon footprint.

Greater impact than cars, lights, solar power and more

However, two even greater differences include going vegan. Only a few meals or days a week makes more difference than all of those previously mentioned efforts combined. And an even bigger arena imperative to change is the use of plastics. It starts with the disposables we see washed up on beaches and filling the great oceanic garbage patches. But that is only one side of the plastic dilemma. 

I read in the Guardian that in the face of transportation and energy sector changes to reduce the use of fossil fuels, extraction companies, especially those subsidized to make fracking and natural gas cheaper, are turning to plastic production in a last gasp to pull more dough from the publics’ pockets to line those of the corporate interests still operating the fossil fuel industry. 

The making of petroleum by-products is an enormous contributor to greenhouse gases. They are also irresponsibly harming the already disenfranchised. The less fortunate are forced to live in proximity to plants that pollute with their production. 

Double lives

Many years ago I monitored air quality adjacent to the plants making use of the byproducts of adjacent oil refineries. This corner of Washington state is known to have a higher rate of throat cancer than many other locations in the nation.

One of the plants I inspected was a chemical plant that manufactured bases for a wide range of consumer products. The head office manager confided in me that she lived a double life. She had duplicates of everything from the car she drove to clothes she wore to rooms in her home. Her work car was used only for that purpose. When she got home from her day at the plant, she went into a separate entrance in her home into a bathroom and laundry, secondary to the main ones for the family. There she removed clothes reserved for work, washed them in a machine used only for them. Then she showered and washed her hair before entering the rest of the home through another closet separated from these areas. There she changed into clothes that never touched any of those worn for her job. 

The smell of the air in the plant was so toxic and horrifically odiferous it permeated everything. Her hair, clothes, skin and even the upholstery and carpet in the car she drove absorbed toxins. I imagine some health care workers who have been exercising extreme measures to keep their family members from being exposed to COVID-19 might have been behaving similarly.

This week “Yes!” magazine shared a panel discussion regarding plastics. Within the first 20 minutes, I had to stop watching. I plan to resume listening to the speakers in small doses when the recording is available. There was too much information I needed to absorb in smaller doses from each of the panelists. 

Anyone an Activist

One that resonated with the story related above was a woman named Sharon Lavigne from St. James Parish LA. She has become an activist against the plastic petrochemical plants being expanded into her neighborhood. This is not the average NIMBY (not in my backyard) whiner who just wants someone else to be inconvenienced. As she said several times, she never set out to be an activist. She was a teacher who had to retire once her activism took over her life. All she wanted, she said, was to live. “I just want to live. I want to breathe air that is safe, drink clean water, and be able to garden.” Simple enough, right?  She went on to relate how the company exhausts toxic mist at night that settles all around the adjacent neighborhoods. 

I encourage anyone who wants to make a difference in the health and well being of our home planet to check out that forum. I will be back with part two of this post in June to ask what YOU see as a priority and what you are willing to change in your life to reduce the strangle hold of the plastics industry.

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