Talking Points

Sample public testimony:  

My name is ___, and I live at ___.  I’m here in support of ____. 

The plastics crisis is too large for voluntary actions.  We need legislation.  Plastic pollutes from the time it’s extracted from the earth as fossil fuels, and the problem is expected to get worse if we don’t act now. Nearly 40% of all plastic produced is for packaging, most of which is used once and then thrown away. Single-use plastics such as cups, containers, straws, utensils, and bags are among the top 10 items in beach cleanups.

More than 29 municipalities in Florida have already passed ordinances to reduce single-use plastic straws, and more than 31 have passed policies to reduce other types of single-use plastics, such as bottles and expanded polystyrene foam.

As of 2015, companies were producing 400 million tons of plastic annually.  Plastic production is expected to nearly quadruple by 2050.  Only 9% of the plastic produced has been recycled, and only about 2% of plastic is effectively recycled into something of equal or higher value.  

Plastics are flooding our oceans, and we need to step up.  Marine species are being harmed by plastic debris, and plastic is entering our food chain.  Here in Florida, when we protect our waters, we protect our economy .  Many cities, states, counties, and entire nations have passed plastic reduction policies with incredibly successful results.  

Plastic clogs our storm drains, overburdens landfills, and makes our beaches and parks unsightly. Plastic is bad for human health and bad for the environment. The Center for International Environmental Law issued a report identifying plastic as a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, producing nearly twice as much as the aviation sector. I am asking you to vote yes on ___.  

Thank you.  

Why reduce single-use plastics?

Graphic: The Guardian

Plastic items from takeaway food and drink dominate the litter in the world’s oceans, according to the most comprehensive study to date. Read more here.

More resources to help you with your talking points:

Expanded Polystyrene Foam

Entire states are banning single-use polystyrene foam. Washington and Colorado just became the seventh and eighth states in the country to ban polystyrene foam takeout containers

A caring group of Girl Scouts speak at a Deerfield Beach city meeting about plastic straws. There are readily available non-plastic alternatives to straws, so this issue is low-hanging fruit, an easy thing to tackle. Straw bans typically include an exemption for people who need/request them. More than 27 municipalities in Florida have already passed straw bans.

“But what about other nations?”

Before pointing our fingers at other nations about plastic pollution, let’s look at ourselves and what the US can do to reduce single-use plastics. The U.S. is responsible for some of highest plastic inputs to the ocean in the world, ranking third. The U.S. also generates more plastic waste than any other country in the world. We are #1! Read more here.

Many nations are taking action on single-use plastics, including Kenya, Rwanda, Bahamas, Jamaica, India, Mexico, Scotland, Canada… the list is extensive. So, let’s keep working on what we can do here, because there’s a lot that can be done. Can we really tell other nations what to do when we are not only failing to ban single-use plastics, but also going in reverse by banning the bans?

Asian countries have often been blamed for creating the problem of plastic pollution, but in reality, much of the problem in Asia starts in the United States and other western countries.

Nations like the United States, Canada and those of the European Union had long been shipping massive amounts of their plastic waste to Asian countries to be “managed,” because it was cheaper to send it abroad than to deal with it at home. This resulted in massive amounts of plastic pollution in those Asian countries.

Recently, these countries have banned or limited imports of plastic waste. Now, our plastic waste is piling up here at home, highlighting how limited our ability to manage our own waste has always been. In 2017, the U.S.’s municipal plastic recycling rate was only 8.4% — and this number included what we sent abroad for recycling. Read more here.

In addition, the companies producing the plastic products and packaging for Asian markets are largely western companies — so the ultimate source of the problem in large part must be solved here.

Countries have tried to curb trade in plastic waste, but the US is shipping more! “Data shows that American exporters continue to ship plastic waste overseas, often to poorer countries, even though most of the world has agreed to not accept it.” Read more here.

Climate Action Plans:

Plastic is a climate issue. If plastic was a country, it would be the planet’s fifth-largest emitter of greenhouse gases! Is your city or county revising their Climate Action Plan? Ask them to include reduction of plastic waste as a goal in the Climate Action Plan.

Broward County has just included reduction of single-use plastics as part of their Climate Action Plan:
You will see that item on page 13, item number 17: “Set plastic waste reduction goal. Set a plastic waste reduction goal and set a policy to reduce single-use plastics and polystyrene foam, on County property, in County contracts and at County events. Advocate permitting of local regulation of single-use plastics and polystyrene foam.”

Credit/source: CIEL (Center for International Environmental Law)

Life Cycle Assessments: Reusable is best.

People often ask “Are paper straws better?” “Are bamboo utensils better?”

We need solutions that reduce plastics and move us away from a throwaway society. For instance, rather than switching from single-use plastic to a different disposable material, we can reduce the packaging required in the first place. We can also shift to refillable and reusable solutions, something that was done regularly in the past but that we can expand on now. Reduce, reuse, refuse. Waste, in general, should be decreased.

Reusable is often the best choice. All products that claim to be biodegradable or compostable must be validated by independent third-party testing and meet the scientific requirements of standard-setting organizations. There currently are no standards to guarantee complete degradation in the marine environment. Decreasing landfill and incineration waste is also important.

The plastics industry often points to Life Cycle Assessments as a talking point. Life Cycle Assessments analyze harm to the environment, but the analyses assume that all plastic enters managed waste streams, which we know is untrue — in fact, an estimated 8 million metric tons of plastic enters the ocean every year. We can no longer ignore plastic’s devastating impacts on marine life in U.S. waters — especially here in Florida. A new report from Oceana revealed that nearly 1,800 marine mammals and sea turtles had swallowed or become entangled in plastic along American coastlines. Of those, 88% were from species endangered or threatened with extinction under the Endangered Species Act.

The “Hidden Costs” report suggests that a transition toward “zero waste” – the conservation of resources through responsible production, consumption, reuse, and recovery of materials without incineration or landfilling – is the best path to reduce emissions

Cancer Alley Protest. Photo credit: Sierra Club Delta Chapter

Plastic and Environmental Justice:

Plastic pollution is an environmental justice issue.

“There’s a stretch of land along the Mississippi River corridor that has been the target of petrochemical companies for years. Between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, hundreds of plants fill the air with toxins and soot at such speed that the area is already considered to have “some of the most dangerous air in America.” It’s known as Cancer Alley — it has the highest cancer rates in the U.S. — and as if the effects haven’t been felt enough already, seven new petrochemical facilities and expansions have been approved since 2015, including a $9.4 billion Formosa Plastics factory in St. James Parish that would double the parish’s toxic air pollution.”- Medium July 13, 2020

Read more: “A Plastics Plant vs. the Community” – Nadine Zylberberg

Find more articles here.

An overflowing trash can is just one way plastic trash may end up as marine debris. (Photo Credit: NOAA)

Even if you don’t live by the beach, plastic can still reach the ocean.

The majority of plastic that gets dumped in the ocean comes from land-based sources.

Many people don’t realize that even if they live in a landlocked area, plastic waste can end up in the sea. That’s because the storm drains that are built into our streets, our parks, and our parking lots empty into our waterways.

So all of that litter on roads and sidewalks will likely travel to a canal or river that leads to the ocean. Unfortunately, we lack the proper waste-management practices to prevent this process.

Other land-based sources include:

•Landfills: Plastic gets transported via wind or runoff to streams or rivers that empty into the ocean.

•Industrial facilities, when products are either improperly disposed of or lost during transport.

Storm drains that are built into our streets, our parks, and our parking lots sometimes empty into our waterways and lead to the ocean. If storm drains become clogged, it can cause flooding. This can be costly for cities. Photo: VolunteerCleanup.Org

Human Health Impacts

According to CIEL, plastic poses risk to human health at every stage of the plastic lifecycle, from extraction of fossil fuels, to consumer use, to disposal and beyond.

Plastic contains toxic additives that can leach into our food. This can have health impacts. Plastic can contain different chemical additives for flexibility, rigidity, stability or color. The chemical additives in plastic are prone to leaching out because they’re not tightly bound. Some of the plastic additives have been linked to cancer, reproductive and nervous system disorders, obesity, diabetes, immune suppression and more. Many consumers are now avoiding restaurants that serve drinks and food in polystyrene foam, so it benefits businesses to switch to a healthier product.   

Read more here.

This graphic above is from a report called Plastic & Health: The Hidden Cost of a Plastic Planet
Credit: Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL)

Recently, the Washington Post published an article about toxic kitchen chemicals and food packaging. The advice was to avoid phthalates and BPA. Plastic containers that contain phthalates have the number 3 and V or PVC in the recycling symbol. Their advice was “4, 5, 1, and 2 – all the rest are bad for you.” (Polystyrene foam is plastic number 6). Frequently dining out or getting takeout is associated with higher levels of phthalates in the body, thanks to food-packaging materials. Additional advice was not to heat plastic in the microwave, even if the package is marked as safe for microwaving. Read more here.

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