Creation Care: Our Plastic Crisis

Plastic first started being created on a global scale in the 1950s.  Since then annual plastic production has exploded to an estimated 460 million tons as of 2019.  While plastic has many beneficial uses, single-use plastics have become a real environmental threat.  All manner of groceries and consumer goods come with plastic wrappings that ultimately end up in landfills, or worse, in our waterways.  Those plastics then make their way into our food systems and ultimately into our bodies.  Some studies estimate that the total mass of microplastic particles consumed by adults corresponds to 50 plastic bags per year or one credit card per day.”  This is the lead-off paragraph of an article from Creation Justice Ministries, an organization of Christian individuals, congregations, and denominations that educate and mobilize people to protect and restore God’s creation.

Everywhere we look in our culture you will find plastic.  It surrounds our food, it makes up our technology and is a standard element in our household items.  Unfortunately, it is also overflowing from our landfills, floating in our waters, and polluting our soil.  More and more, you can even find it in our own bodies and those of other living creatures.  There are even traces of plastic found in breast milk.  Despite the fact that we have learned the harms of plastics, we are steadily increasing our production of the material and integrating it into more and more items.  Plastic is everywhere!

We tend to think that using plastics is OK because they are recyclable, right?  Unfortunately, that is a very misleading statement.  Even though, technically, they are recyclable, less than 14% of plastic packaging is actually recycled.  We may personally collect plastics for recycling, but once the recycling is picked up, we don’t see where it goes.  If the collection centers can’t find someone to sell it to or give it to, it still goes into our environment.  Plastics live on in our ecosystem for up to 500 years, and we create 460 million tons more of it each year.  Over 99 percent of this plastic is made from fossil fuels, and the fossil fuel industry knows this.  They are encouraging higher levels of plastic production and looking for even more ways to use fossil fuels to increase their profits.  This is a straightforward example of an industry that puts its profits ahead of everything else, including the health of people and our environment.  Don’t believe the commercials they run on television that make them out to be saints, only interested in our welfare.  Their actions prove otherwise.  By 2050, it’s estimated that 20% of the oil consumed will be used for plastic production.

What happens to plastics after their use is only part of the problem.  We also need to consider the health risks created by plastic production.  People who live near plastic production facilities experience disproportionate levels of cancer, organ malfunction, impaired sensory organs, and birth defects.  These facilities are also disproportionately located near black, brown, and low-income communities.

Keep all this front of mind when you are in the grocery store, big box store, other stores, and restaurants. The decisions you make about what you buy, how it’s packaged, and where you shop will make a difference.  You can refuse to buy plastic milk containers. Trig’s now sells half-gallons of milk in glass bottles, with a $2.00 deposit. You can use only laundry detergent sheets, instead of detergent in plastic jugs.  (They’re also much lighter to carry home.)  You can use silicone covers in your refrigerator, or re-usable containers instead of plastic wrap.  You can even insist your purchases not be put into plastic bags and your leftovers be put into paper containers.  Please share these ideas with family members. GOD’S CREATION NEEDS OUR HELP!

Sandy McKitrick, Climate Care Team