As I sit at my computer to write this column I, like many of you, have that ubiquitous plastic bottle of water by my desk. Despite the fact that tap water is declared safe for consumption by the EPA and tastes fine in many locations, 1,500 plastic water bottles are being used every second in the United States alone.

Plastics are everywhere. They have a huge range of practical uses. The use of plastic is so common that we often don’t think about its presence in our lives.

Virtually everything we buy or consume seems to either be wrapped in plastic or made of plastic. Much of our food is individually shrink-wrapped and consumer products of all kinds are single-use wrapped. Our lives are often made easier and safer by the use of plastic wrap.

While the saying goes that “diamonds are forever,” the same can be said for plastics. More than 300 million tons of plastic are produced every year and used in a wide variety of applications. 

Why are plastics bad for the environment? Plastic bags, like other plastic materials, are made from crude oil. This is a problem because crude oil emits significant amounts of pollution and because the product is not biodegradable.

Plastic bags and  plastic water bottles were, until recently, considered an essential part of everyday life, whilst being thrown away at will. This leads to some 8 million tons of plastic ending up in our oceans every year.

Marine species ingest or are entangled by plastic debris, which causes severe injuries and deaths. Plastic pollution threatens food safety and quality; human, fish and animal health; and coastal tourism, and it contributes to climate change.

How can we effectively address our problem with plastics? Currently only 14% of plastic packaging used globally makes its way to recycling plants, only 9% is actually recycled, and 40% ends up in landfills.

It’s up to all of us. We need to be willing to do things such as:

• Use refillable coffee cups

• Top off our reusable water bottle or, better yet, use ceramic coffee cups at home and refillable cups at our favorite coffee shops.

• Decline a plastic straw or ask for a paper one.

• Use reusable food containers whenever possible.

• Spread the word; only collectively can we make a difference.

The future of our grandchildren’s world depends on what we do today.

John Riolo lives in Moss Creek and is past president of the Nature Club of Moss Creek. john.a.riolo@gmail.com