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Plastic waste is a major crisis that can no longer be ignored | READER COMMENTARY

Plastic bottles and waste float at the Potpecko accumulation lake near Priboj, in southwest Serbia, Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. Serbia and other Balkan nations are virtually drowning in communal waste. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)
Plastic bottles and waste float at the Potpecko accumulation lake near Priboj, in southwest Serbia, Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. Serbia and other Balkan nations are virtually drowning in communal waste. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic) (Darko Vojinovic/AP)

I wish I knew which concerning issue would motivate our members of Congress to co-sponsor one of the most consequential pieces of federal legislation of our time: the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act. This comprehensive legislation is exactly what we need to give ourselves a livable future.

Is health an issue? We are eating a credit card worth of plastic a week. Plastic and many toxic chemicals are “hydrophobic” which means they do not like water. Not only do we have tiny pieces of plastic in our waterways, we have tiny pieces of plastic with high concentrations of dangerous, cancer-causing chemicals working its way up to our dinner plates.

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Is it the ocean? Let’s take coral as an example. Not only is coral needed to protect coastlines from erosion, it is an essential for breeding and feeding 25% of all marine life. When plastic comes in contact with coral, plastic basically tears open the skin of coral and allow infection and death rates go from 4% to 89%. Plastic also appears to be reducing the ocean’s ability to absorb greenhouse gases.

Is it money? Plastic pollution in the world’s oceans, known as marine ecosystem value, cost society up to $2.5 trillion per year. Plastic waste is said to cost up to $33,000 per ton in reduced environmental value.

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Is it the climate crisis? If plastics were a country, it would be the fifth-highest greenhouse gas emitter in the world. Plastics will account for more than a third of the global growth of oil demand by 2030 and nearly half by 2050 — more than trucks, aviation and shipping combined.

Is it litter? Pollution from plastic waste has reached epidemic proportions with an estimated 100 million tons of plastic now found in the oceans. By 2040, the annual flow of plastic into the oceans will triple.

Is it fracked plastic production? Since 2010, the petrochemical industry has invested over $200 billion and with $100 billion more planned to be spent. Plastic production is expected to grow 40% by 2030.

Is it resources? Plastic is a byproduct of fossil fuels. We are using a non-renewable, finite resource to make a plastic bag with the average time of use 12 minutes.

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Is the future the issue? A health organization called Project Tender found phthalates, a group of chemicals used as a plastic softener, are damaging brain development of children and calls for its immediate ban. One half of all the infants born today will have infertility issues. Microplastics have now been found in the placentas of unborn babies. Yes, you read that correctly. There are microplastics in the placentas of unborn babies.

The Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act will help turn the tide on this ubiquitous, all-consuming toxin in our society. I am urging Maryland’s members of Congress to co-sponsor this critical federal legislation to give this generation and the future generations a chance to have a future.

Pat Hersey, Columbia

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