Why is Plastic Pollution Partisan?

Pollution should be a non-partisan issue. But, for some reason, it’s not.

On June 5th, World Environment Day (WED), India’s Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Harsh Vadham, announced India’s unprecedented pledge to abandon single-use plastics by 2022 at the UN sponsored WED summit in India.

At the summit, India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi cited the destructive effects of microplastics on marine life and their appearance in the human food chain as reasons for India’s joining UN Environment’s Clean Seas campaign.

Indians appear to embrace the government’s goal to phase out single-use plastics. “There is a real energy around this here in India, from all corners of society,” Keith Weller, head of U.N. Environment news and media, told CBS News. He hopes it will set the tone for other countries to follow suit.

India is a country of 1.2 billion people. For context, the United States has about 300 million. And yet India, a nation of 122 major languages, with religious, racial, and class divides as deep as our own, can agree on at least one thing: harmful plastics need to go.

On the same day India’s ban was announced, the Boston Herald published an editorial titled Styrofoam Bans Don’t Add Up to Beans While Sticking it to Coffee Drinkers. The article’s author alleges that Massachusetts’ proposed bill for a statewide ban on polystyrene (known as styrofoam), is a bill backed by leftist bullies. The liberal elites who scoff at everyday people grabbing their coffee to go in their unsophisticated styrofoam cups. For them, the polystyrene bill is all about controlling you.

If only the plastic epidemic was this petty. The truth of it is: the Massachusetts Styrofoam Ban is not about Democrats or Republicans at all. The plastics inundating our oceans and waterways hurt everybody.

Plastic waste does not biodegrade, but breaks down into microplastics, which are ingested by hundreds of filter feeders, fish, and seabirds reports National Geographic. These plastics block digestive tracks, dull appetites, and alter feeding habits in marine life such that growth and reproduction are diminished.

If preserving Earth’s wildlife – the unique products of billions of years of evolution which, once extinct, will never return – is not enough, then hear the human cost. These microplastics travel through the food chain to end up in our own food supply. Microplastics have appeared in our stomachs, lungs, and blood, wrote UN Environment Chief, Erik Solheim in The Guardian. Doctors are only just starting to study the effects of microplastics on humans.

Every year we dump more plastic waste into our oceans, about 8 million tons worth, says National Geographic. Most of it was used just once before getting tossed. If we keep it up, at this rate our oceans will become spinning gyres of deadly trash. We – on a united, non-partisan front – need to confront plastic waste before we pass the point of no return. It’s not just Democrats or Republicans who will face the consequences if we don’t.

Here’s where the Massachusetts Polystyrene Ban comes in. Half of all plastic waste is packing material, like polystyrene. Most of it never gets recycled or incinerated. By banning single-use polystyrene, Massachusetts will cut back significantly on its plastic waste, following India’s example and setting one for the rest of the United States.

The plastic crisis goes beyond the aisle. The Massachusetts Polystyrene Ban is not about rubbing fancy biodegradable cups in conservative faces. It’s not about a moral high horse. It is a matter of the survival and preservation of this Earth, of which there is one.

I hope we can agree on that.

Goal: The global community has to come together on a united front to beat plastics because we all live on the same planet. Follow India’s example.

Henry Hintermeister is a community activist who lives in Medford.

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