Foam cups at Dunkin' Donuts will soon be history, removing what the company estimates will be a billion of them each year from the waste stream.
Every day we learn something new about the unintended consequences of plastic pollution. Fortunately, every day also brings a new law or commitment made to cut back on “disposable” products.
For entire month of April, many Marylanders also took some time every day to help clean up our streets, sidewalks, parks and waterways. Residents across the state have been picking up trash daily as part of #30daysofpickinguplitter social media challenge. The participants included returning trash-pickers as well as new members of the movement, perhaps inspired to act by the growing awareness of plastic pollution plaguing our oceans or by the frustrating presence of trash in our neighborhoods, along our streets, and in the Chesapeake Bay.
Trash pollution and the chemicals contained within it are an increasing environmental and public health threat. There is evidence of microplastics in our bay. They have been found in the air, in beer, in tap and bottled water, table salt and seafood. Plastic pollution kills wildlife and harms their ability to reproduce. Trash pollution is a formidable problem, but the trash we make and the trash we clean up are two things that we can control. Reducing, reusing and removing litter from our own little corners of the world can feel so redemptive. Transforming a block or park from dirty to clean is a difference you see and touch — a bit of short-term soul food.
Reaching our goal of a trash-free Maryland requires a diversity of solutions from infrastructure and services to legislation and individual and collective actions to course correct “throwaway” culture. We need a critical mass of block cleaners and litter pickers to get current pollution out of our communities and waterways. We need consumers to vote with their dollars and we need companies to invest in materials that are safe and sensible within a system focused on renewal. We need city and county governments to continue exploring the essential roles they play not just in solid waste management, but in helping local communities become trash-free.
And we need laws like the state foam ban that we are asking Gov. Larry Hogan to sign this month (“Maryland is set to become the first state to go foam-free. What will it cost?” April 18). That bill bans a material that is particularly insidious as litter, and that all last month was found in daily picks throughout the state with unsurprisingly frequency. We cannot continue to look ahead with short-sighted vision. We have to have the courage and conviction to look beyond the bottom line as it is currently defined. Last month, Maryland’s legislature took a strong step in that direction when it passed the nation’s first statewide ban on foam food service products. Governor Hogan, who in 2015 signed one of the nation’s first state microbead bans and chairs the Chesapeake Bay Commission, has not — at least as of the date we write this letter — announced his plans for the bill. But we won’t just wait and see. We and many others are working every day to make the vision of a Maryland free of litter into a reality!
Eli Pousson and Ashley Van Stone
The writers are, respectively, founder of #30daysofpickinguplitter Challenge and executive director of Trash Free Maryland.