Op-Ed: Take Action for the Delaware During Plastic-Free July

Sandra Meola | July 2, 2019 | Opinion
Between entanglement, ingestion, and ecosystem damage — plastic pollution impacts marine species both large and small

Sandra Meola
Imagine a world where plastic outnumbers fish in our waterways. Unless aggressive action is taken immediately, we’re not too far away from that reality. While plastic products are designed for their convenience and durability, the lightweight material is pervasive in our environment, documented throughout the waterways of the Delaware River Watershed and throughout the globe. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimates that by 2050, plastic will outweigh fish throughout our world’s oceans.

Much of the plastic of concern is single-use, such as water bottles, straws, and bags used for mere minutes before being thrown away. Due to improper waste management, littering, and stormwater runoff, plastic ends up in our environment and travels to local waterways.

Plastic pollution is not without impact on fish, seabirds, turtles, and other wildlife. Plymouth University researchers have found that about 700 different marine species are threatened by the presence of plastic in waterways. Scientists also believe that plastic plays a role in rising rates of species extinction. Between entanglement, ingestion, and ecosystem damage — plastic pollution impacts marine species both large and small.

Plastic above ground and under

Plastic is also a nonbiodegradable material, unable to decompose, so over time it will break up into smaller plastic pieces called microplastics, which have been found not only in surface water, but also in underground aquifers, the air, and shellfish.

Through both consumer choices and legislative action, our Delaware River Watershed can become a cleaner, healthier place for people and wildlife. This month, I urge you to take the Plastic Free July challenge, and reduce your plastic footprint. Ditch the plastic bags for reusable ones; pass on plastic bottles and bring your own instead; bring your own takeout container or coffee mug when you go out; avoid plastic packaging like individually wrapped fruits; skip straws altogether or use a reusable metal straw. Go even further by contacting your elected representatives and urging them to support legislation that will move us away from harmful single-use plastics and toward a circular economy.

The Delaware River Watershed states of New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Delaware have begun addressing plastic pollution through legislation. New York has banned single-use plastic bags statewide; Pennsylvania’s Zero Waste PA campaign includes 13 bills that address issues created by our disposable society; and Delaware’s Legislature passed a bill that would ban single-use plastic bags, which is expected to be signed by Gov. John Carney.

Even the Cape May-Lewes Ferry that connects North Cape May in New Jersey to Lewes, DE, across the bay has committed to eliminating polystyrene foam and single-use plastics onboard, recognizing their harmful impact. Over 60 New Jersey municipalities have passed local ordinances to address single-use plastics, as they await statewide action. New Jersey Sen. Bob Smith (D-17) introduced a bill that would ban plastic bags, plastic straws, and expanded polystyrene foam (S-2776). If passed, the bill would be celebrated as one of the strongest, most comprehensive statewide plastic policies in the country, on the heels of state-wide bills signed in New York, Vermont, and Maine aimed at preventing plastics from entering local waterways.

As a state that uses 4.4 billion plastic bags annually, New Jersey must take action for the health of the Delaware River, its tributaries, and our precious Atlantic Coast.

If your bathtub were overflowing, you wouldn’t first reach for a mop: You would turn off the faucet. Plastic pollution must be tackled in the same way, by stopping it at its source through refusing single-use plastic, adopting reusable habits, and encouraging decisive legislative action. Join us in preventing and reducing single-use plastics from entering our waterways.