AUSTIN, Texas — Roughly 36 million tons of plastic: that’s how much the EPA reports the U.S. produced in 2018, and that number is on the rise. Scientists estimate by 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.
What You Need To Know
- 'Plastic Free July' aims to hold corporations accountable for plastic pollution through education.
- Texas is one of the biggest plastic producers in the country.
- Slow living encourages people to reduce plastic waste through products and packaging.
The international campaign Plastic Free July is seeking to end plastic pollution at its source by educating consumers on cutting out single-use plastic packaging, and by holding corporations and politicians accountable for allowing it to continue.
Texas plays a huge role in this crisis, but local businesses are fighting back against plastic pollution by offering plastic-free alternatives.
Much like the slow food movement, slow living has the same idea — which is what Slow North in North Austin is all about.
“Just being more intentional with our consumption and buying items that are built to last,” said assistant manger Ariel Griffin.
She got into “slow living” after working for a large skincare line and finding out how harmful the chemicals and packaging was to humans and the environment.
“It’s been really interesting and gratifying to educate people on how they can reduce plastic waste,” said Griffin.
Not long ago, she was a customer, like all the employees there. Just ask Amanda Gelalezha and she’ll tell you.
“I loved it so much I just wanted to stay!” said Gelalezha.
The East Austin boutique makes its own products and sells them via small and locally owned U.S. vendors, all of which are plastic-free.The United States is the largest producer of plastic waste in the world, according to a recent report from the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Plastic packaging is the number one item that ends up in the landfills.
“I realized how important it is to actually be sustainable for our bodies and the planet,” Gelalezha said.
But while zero-waste stores like Slow North are trending and awareness of single-use plastic is growing, so is plastic production, with Texas as one of the biggest plastic producers in the country.
Luke Metzger with Environment Texas can’t help but notice plastic pollution everywhere he goes. In a matter of minutes, he managed to pick up two handfuls of single-use plastic at Lady Bird Lake in downtown Austin. But he says littering isn’t the problem.
“Just picking up trash, that’s not enough, you know. We need to stop this pollution at its source,” Metzger said.
A Center for International Environmental Law investigation found that more than 99% of plastics are produced from chemicals in fossil fuels.
The report says, “cheap shale gas in the United States is fueling massive new investments in plastics infrastructure in the U.S. and abroad, with $164 billion planned for 264 new facilities or expansion projects in the U.S. alone.”
Many of those factories are in Texas, including EXXOn, Dow Chemical and Chevron Phillips, building several multi-billion dollar chemical factories in the past few years in Cedar Bayou, Freeport, Port Arthur, Bayport and Ingleside, Texas.
“Certainly the fact that the big chemical companies and petroleum producers donate millions of dollars in campaign contributions to state lawmakers contributes to the state we are in right now,” Metzger said.
So ditching single-use plastic helps, but the responsibility isn’t all on the consumer, and a “plastic-free” lifestyle isn’t possible for everyone, especially low-income families and communities of color who are disproportionately impacted by plastic pollution.
Griffin realizes that many people do not have access or financial means to shop at stores like Slow North.
“I do recognize in some ways living a zero-waste lifestyle is a luxury and a privilege,” she added.
Griffin and her coworkers hope one day, slow living can be an option anyone can enjoy.
Plastic packing is the number one item found in landfills with more than 14.5 million tons in 2018.
According to Plastic Free July, half of all plastic production since 1950 was in the last 13 years and only 9% of plastic is recycled globally.