Today is Earth Day and people around the world are celebrating by taking action to protect our planet. Here in the High Country, MountainTrue and the WNC Sierra Club are honoring Earth Day by launching our campaign to end plastic pollution and passing a plastic waste reduction ordinance in Boone. Find out how you can act on plasticfreewnc.com.
You’ve seen the plastic litter on the side of the road, the plastic bags blown away or stuck in tree branches, and the Styrofoam cups floating in our rivers and streams. These single-use plastics clog rivers and streams in western North Carolina and break down into microplastics that are harmful to the environment and human health. We’ve done what we can to interrupt the flow of trash with our Trash Trouts, but it’s just not enough.
In our streams and waterways, microplastics are inadvertently ingested by fish and other aquatic organisms, resulting in their transfer throughout the food web. Researchers have found that ingesting microplastics can cause false satiety and damage the digestive systems of aquatic life. Microplastics can also leach harmful chemicals like plasticizers and additives into fish organs. Chemicals have varying effects on fish, altering feeding rates, development and survival.
Humans face similar problems. The average person ingests about a credit card’s worth of microplastics each week, and these microplastics have been found in human placenta and 80% of blood samples according to a recent study published in Environment International. These plastics and the additives used to make them are a serious public health concern. Styrene, an ingredient in polystyrene foam (a form of plastic), is classified as a probable human carcinogen. Phthalates, which are used to make plastic products more flexible, disrupt the endocrine system, harm the reproductive and nervous systems, and have been linked to higher rates of childhood asthma and other respiratory conditions. Both of these chemical classes easily leach into the environment around them, be it a drinking water source, a landfill, or the human body.
Where do microplastics come from and how can we solve this problem?
These microplastics enter the environment when plastic waste degrades, in landfill runoff, and in discharges from sewage treatment plants. Once in the environment, they can travel thousands of kilometers suspended in water or carried by the wind. A study conducted by MountainTrue revealed the presence of microplastics in 100% of the water samples we collected from the Watauga and New River watersheds.
The best way to fight microplastics is to reduce plastic pollution at the source. While eight states and hundreds of municipalities in the United States have already demonstrated, the best way to mitigate plastic pollution is to enact common sense laws to limit the use of single-use plastics before they end up as litter and microplastic pollution in our rivers. , lakes and streams.
Fortunately, North Carolina’s Solid Waste Management Act gives cities the authority and mandate to implement programs and other actions to “protect human health and the environment.” Because the presence of microplastic pollution harmful to human health and the environment has been documented in our area, the Town of Boone not only has the power to act, but it has the legal obligation to protect its residents and our upstream stream. Similarly, Asheville, Durham and other municipalities in the state are considering passing plastic reduction ordinances.
MountainTrue reviewed an in-depth legal analysis of North Carolina law and developed a model order based on best practices from across the country that is effective and fair. This order:
Ban the use of plastic shopping bags, polystyrene cups and plastic straws in fast food restaurants, grocery stores and retail outlets.
Requires that single-use utensils provided in restaurants and grocery stores be recycled or composted.
Charges a 10¢ fee for recyclable paper bags (made from 40% post-consumer waste) that are collected by the company.
Exempts customers using EBT, SNAP and WIC from paying the 10¢ paper bag fee.
When a similar ordinance was passed in San Jose, California, the percentage of customers bringing their own reusable bags to the store increased from 4% to 62%, pollution from plastic bags in storm drains was reduced by 89% % and downtime in municipal solid waste (MSW) related to plastic bag disruptions were reduced by up to 50% within one year of implementation.
We need you to act
We need you to act today to fight plastic pollution. Visit our campaign website at plasticfreewnc.com and use our action form to send an email to Boone City Council members calling on them to pass this ordinance and protect our communities.
MountainTrue High Country Regional Manager