What is Earth Day, and what is it meant to accomplish?

What is Earth Day, and what is it meant to accomplish?

Close to 48 years ago, on 22 April 1970, millions of people took to the streets to protest the negative impacts of 150 years of industrial development.

In the US and around the world, smog was becoming deadly and evidence was growing that pollution led to developmental delays in children. Biodiversity was in decline as a result of the heavy use of pesticides and other pollutants.

The global ecological awareness was growing, and the US Congress and President Nixon responded quickly. In July of the same year, they created the Environmental Protection Agency, and robust environmental laws such as the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act, among many.

One billion people

Earth Day is now a global event each year, and we believe that more than 1 billion people in 192 countries now take part in what is the largest civic-focused day of action in the world.

It is a day of political action and civic participation. People march, sign petitions, meet with their elected officials, plant trees, clean up their towns and roads. Corporations and governments use it to make pledges and announce sustainability measures. Faith leaders, including Pope Francis, connect Earth Day with protecting God’s greatest creations, humans, biodiversity and the planet that we all live on.

Earth Day Network, the organization that leads Earth Day worldwide, announced that Earth Day 2018 will focus on mobilizing the world to End Plastic Pollution, including creating support for a global effort to eliminate single-use plastics along with global regulation for the disposal of plastics. EDN will educate millions of people about the health and other risks associated with the use and disposal of plastics, including pollution of our oceans, water, and wildlife, and about the growing body of evidence that decomposing plastics are creating serious global problems.

From poisoning and injuring marine life to the ubiquitous presence of plastics in our food to disrupting human hormones and causing major life-threatening diseases and early puberty, the exponential growth of plastics is threatening our planet’s survival.

End Plastic Pollution

Single Use Plactics

The billions upon billions of items of plastic waste choking our oceans, lakes, and rivers and piling up on land is more than unsightly and harmful to plants and wildlife. Plastic Pollution is a very real and single-use plastics are small but have a large impact.

The following 10 facts shed light on how single-use plastic is a large problem that most people are a part of.

  1. In 2016, world plastics production totaled around 335 million metric tons.[1] Roughly half of annual plastic production is destined for a single-use product.[2]
  2. Humans buy about 1,000,000 plastic bottles per minute in total.[3] Only about 23% of plastic bottles are recycled within the U.S.[4]
  3. Americans purchase about 50 billion water bottles per year, averaging about 13 bottles per month for every person in the U.S.! That means by using a reusable water bottle, you could save an average of 156 plastic bottles annually.[5]
  4. It is estimated that 4 trillion plastic bags are used worldwide annually. Only 1% of plastic bags are returned for recycling.[6] Americans throw away 100 billion plastic bags annually. That’s about 307 bags per person! All that waste can be eliminated by switching to reusable shopping bags.[7]
  5. Half a million straws are used in the world every day.[8] Refusing straws is becoming a trending practice!
  6. 500 billion disposable cups are consumed every year.[9] Americans alone throw away 25 billion styrofoam coffee cups every year. Styrofoam cannot be completely recycled. Most of the Styrofoam disposed of today will still be present in landfills 500 years from now.[10]
  7. The main cause for the increase in plastic production is plastic packaging. Plastic packaging was 42% of all non-fiber plastic produced in 2015, and it also made up 52% of plastics thrown away.
  8. Single-use-plastics frequently do not make it to a landfill or are recycled.[11] A full 32% of the 78 million tons of plastic packaging produced annually is left to flow into our oceans; the equivalent of pouring one garbage truck of plastic into the ocean every minute. This is expected to increase to two per minute by 2030 and four per minute by 2050. By 2050, this could mean there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans.[12] Choosing to buy products with less packaging or no packaging altogether makes a big difference.
  9. Even when single use plastics are sent to a landfill (there are 3,091 active landfills in the U.S. alone), they aren’t harmless. Landfill liners can leak harmful pollutants into the watershed and plastics on the tops of landfills can be carried away by the wind.[13] The best way to curb single use plastic pollution is to reduce your personal plastic consumption!3

[1] https://www.statista.com/statistics/282732/global-production-of-plastics-since-1950/

[2] https://plasticoceans.org/the-facts/
[3] https://www.forbes.com/sites/trevornace/2017/07/26/million-plastic-bottles-minute-91-not-recycled/#1804e92f292c
[4] https://www.banthebottle.net/bottled-water-facts/
[5] https://www.aiga.org/case-study-watershed
[6] http://www.wmnorthwest.com/guidelines/plasticvspaper.htm
[7] https://www.worldwatch.org/node/5565
[8] http://www.latimes.com/opinion/editorials/la-ed-straws-on-request-20180116-story.html
[9] https://www.studyinaustralia.gov.au/news/global-shot-at-a-greener-coffee-cup
[10] http://www.carryyourcup.org/get-the-facts
[11] Plastic Pollution Primer and Action Tookit, Earth Day Network, 2018
[12] https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/10/every-minute-one-garbage-truck-of-plastic-is-dumped-into-our-oceans/
[13] https://www.onegreenplanet.org/environment/how-plastic-is-harming-animals-the-planet-and-us/

The Plastic Threat to Human Health

  1. A National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey produced by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concluded that BPA was found in 93% of urine samples taken from people above the age of six.[1]
  2. Bisphenol A[2] also known as BPA, used to make billions of plastic beverage containers, dinnerware, protective linings of food cans and toys, is considered an endocrine disruptor, meaning it can both decrease or increase endocrine activity in humans and cause adverse health effects.[3]
  3. Based on the weight of existing evidence, it is likely that elevated urinary BPA levels are associated with prostate cancer in humans and may be an independent diagnostic marker in prostate cancer patients.[4]
  4. Some animal studies have indicated adverse effects of BPA on newborns and fetuses.[5]
  5. Breast milk of most women in the developed world contains dozens of compounds including BPA that have been linked to negative health effects.[6]
  6. Growing literature links many Phthalates[7], which are a group of chemicals used to make plastics more flexible and harder to break, with a variety of adverse outcomes including weight gain and insulin resistance, decreased levels of sex hormones, and other consequences for the human reproductive system both for females and males.[8]
  7. When food is wrapped in plastic containing BPA, phthalates may leak into the food. Any migration is likely to be greater when in contact with fatty foods such as meats and cheeses than with other foods.[9]
  8. In general, it is not recommended to heat food in plastic containers with the codes 3 and 7. The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service advises Americans not to reuse margarine tubs, take-out containers, whipped topping bowls, and other one-time use containers, which are more likely to melt and cause chemicals to leach into food.[10]
  9. The label BPA-free in a container of bottle doesn’t mean a product is free from other harmful chemical compounds that are slightly different but have a different name. [11]

[1] National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals https://www.cdc.gov/exposurereport/index.html
[2] Bisphenol A (BPA) is used to manufacture polycarbonate plastics. This type of plastic is used to make some, compact disks, impact-resistant safety equipment, and automobile parts. BPA epoxy resins are used in the protective linings of food cans, in dental sealants, and in other products. General exposure to BPA at low levels comes from eating food or drinking water stored in containers that have BPA. Small children may be exposed by hand-to-mouth and direct oral (mouth) contact with materials containing BPA. Dental treatment with BPA-containing sealants also results in short-term exposure. In addition, workers who manufacture products that contain BPA can be exposed. Centers for Disease Control, www.cdc.gov/biomonitoring/BisphenolA_FactSheet.html
[3] National Institutes of Health, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25813067
[4] A Review of the Carcinogenic Potential of Bisphenol A https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4783235/
[5] National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/sya-bpa/index.cfm
[6] Scientific American, www.scientificamerican.com/article/earth-talks-breast-feeding
[7] Phthalates are a group of chemicals used to make plastics more flexible and harder to break. They are often called plasticizers. Some phthalates are used as solvents (dissolving agents) for other materials. They are used in hundreds of products, such as vinyl flooring, adhesives, detergents, lubricating oils, automotive plastics, plastic clothes (raincoats), and personal-care products (soaps, shampoos, hair sprays, and nail polishes). Phthalates are used widely in polyvinyl chloride plastics, which are used to make products such as plastic packaging film and sheets, garden hoses, inflatable toys, blood-storage containers, medical tubing, and some children’s toys. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, www.cdc.gov/biomonitoring/Phthalates_FactSheet.html
[8] National Institutes of Health, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3299092
[9] Harvard University, www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/microwaving-food-in-plastic-dangerous-or-not
[10] https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/appliances-and-thermometers/cooking-safely-in-the-microwave/cooking-safely-in-the-microwave-oven
[11] Time Magazine http://time.com/3742871/bpa-free-health/