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Effects of plastic on the environment

As my spring semester at the Community College of Vermont (CCV) comes to a close, I thought I would take a moment to share some thoughts on an environmental topic that I learned some new information about -- the effects of plastic on the environment.

 

Plastic is an extremely cheap material to produce, and thus the use of plastic material has become commonplace throughout the world. The use of plastics has been imbedded in our everyday routines, especially when you consider how plastic material is a great way to package and store food items. In addition, the use of plastic grocery bags is very common among Americans -- as at least 40 percent of Americans prefer plastic to paper. One of the lesser-known environmental effects associated with plastic is the chemical pollutants and large amounts of fossil fuels that are associated with the creation of plastic. Plastic production sends toxic chemicals into the air and contributes to the greenhouse gases that accumulate in our atmosphere.

One of the major environmental issues related to plastic is how an unfortunate amount of it is carelessly disposed of (through littering) on land and makes its way into waterways. Solar radiation and oxidation degrade plastic into smaller and smaller pieces, but plastic never disappears altogether once it is exposed to our environment. Fish, birds and other water mammals confuse the plastic pieces as a food source and can die of starvation. Furthermore, approximately 1 million seabirds and marine mammals die every year due to plastic being entangled within their bodies. 

Plastic accounts for nearly 86 percent of ocean debris. Though an ocean is located far away from this area, who is to say that plastic littered around here doesn’t make its way to the ocean? Plastic debris that makes its way into the Mad River could end up in the Atlantic Ocean. Though we may not think about how tossing a plastic grocery bag or a plastic bottle on the side of the road could affect fish and bird populations hundreds of miles away, the reality of the matter is, it can definitely add to the accumulation of plastic in waterways. Furthermore, animal species living in our area are more than likely to be affected by our plastic waste in much of the same ways that marine species are affected, either by entanglement or starvation from a stomach full of plastic pieces that they unknowingly substituted as a food source. 

With Green Up Day fast approaching it seemed appropriate to place an emphasis on the importance of cleaning up all the plastic waste that litters our area. The Mad River Valley is generally a clean and beautiful area. I believe many people recognize the importance of contributing their time to clean-up efforts. However, recently I have noticed two areas that are covered with plastic waste and lie in close proximity to the Mad River. The tennis courts located behind the Moretown School have a considerable amount of plastic waste and Route 100 seemed to have a lot of plastic waste as well.

It is important that we clean up the Mad River Valley, but it is even more important that residents and visitors consider how their individual choices can reduce the amount of plastic that ends up on our land. Plastic is impossible to completely eliminate from our lives, but we can choose to make positive choices, such as recycling what is recyclable, reusing plastic bags or containers whenever possible and, more importantly, developing an awareness of how impactful plastic is on environments near and far, if it is not disposed of properly. Even the smallest amount of plastic waste can affect our environment.

 

Stephen LaRock lives in Fayston.

 

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