You’ve probably heard about the global plastic pollution problem. You may have heard of microplastics – bits of plastic less than 5mm across that absorb toxics and enter the food web as they’re ingested by marine species.
While we in the Pacific Northwest like to think that we do our best to recycle responsibly, our plastic waste is actually contributing to this global problem, and threatening Puget Sound.
As local research on plastics progresses, there is increasing evidence that plastic pollution is widespread in Puget Sound. Pieces of trash such as crumbling Styrofoam, plastic bottles, plastic bags, and cigarette butts degrade important habitat for salmon, forage fish, and other aquatic species, and make our rivers and beaches less enjoyable.
One of the most disturbing aspects of plastic pollution is that plastics can act like sponges for toxic contaminants, soaking them up and potentially leaching them into the species that consume them. Many plastics also contain toxic additives themselves, which threaten the health of aquatic species and our communities. As we ingest fish and shellfish from around Puget Sound, we may be at risk of ingesting these contaminants ourselves.
But how does plastic get into Puget Sound in the first place? It starts with us. Roughly 90% of solid waste entering our waterways is plastic. Each year, approximately 8 million metric tons of plastic enters the oceans from rivers, creeks, storm drains, and wastewater treatment outflows – that’s the equivalent of a full garbage truck every minute! Upstream, our consumption and disposal of plastics also contribute significantly to demand for fossil fuels, and link us to a global waste and recycling system that perpetuates racial inequity and environmental injustice.
That’s why WEC staff and interns are joining millions of people across more than 150 countries to refuse single use plastics throughout the month of July. We’ll each #choosetorefuse the most prominent symbols of our throwaway culture, such as plastic straws, bags, bottles, cups and cutlery.
To protect and restore Puget Sound and its diverse inhabitants, from oysters to orcas and all the way across the food web to humans, we need to rethink our relationship with plastics. Throughout Plastic Free July, we’ll update on how you can engage in this challenge and learn more about its impact on Puget Sound.