Tag: plastic

Progress on Plastics

Roughly 500 million straws are used and disposed of in the United States every day.[1] Even though you might want to think that the majority of those straws end up in recycling facilities, the reality is that they do not. These tiny unnecessary tubes end up in landfills, city streets, beaches, oceans, and even the Great Lakes. Plastic straws contribute to 22 million pounds of plastic discarded into the water of the Great Lakes each year, which continually degrades the ecosystem health and environmental quality of the Great Lakes and its shoreline.[2]

Recently, there has been a strong push to ban plastic straws and utensils across the globe. In fact, on July 1st, Seattle will become the first major U.S. city to ban food service businesses from using plastic food items such as to-go containers, cups, straws, and utensils.[3]Smaller cities such as Malibu, CA and Miami Beach, FL have also introduced similar bans on plastic straws; while the state of California and other major cities like Portland, OR and New York City are also working towards passing single use plastic bans. [4]

Not only are cities and citizen groups demanding alternatives to plastics, but the food industry is also beginning to facilitate this must needed change. Fast food giant, McDonald’s, is already testing plastic straw alternatives across the U.S. and has set a plan to phase out all plastic straws in the U.K. and Ireland.[5] Additionally, Chicago’s largest restaurant group has also recently stopped using plastic straws in over 100 restaurants. [6] These incremental changes will hopefully inspire more of the food industry to shift away from single use plastics and lower the industry wide impact to the environment.

This continued progress of banning single use plastics must be commended. However, these are just the beginning steps of a long journey ahead. We must continue to push for alternatives to single use plastics and pressure our own communities to follow Seattle’s bold commitment to the environment. In addition, we all must make the personal commitment to stop using single-use plastics. We must say that “this is the last straw,” and do our part in stopping the flow of plastic pollutants into our environment.


[1] https://www.nps.gov/articles/straw-free.htm

[2] https://www.ecowatch.com/plastic-great-lakes-2157466316.html

[3]http://www.seattle.gov/util/forbusinesses/solidwaste/foodyardbusinesses/commercial/foodpackagingrequirements/

[4] https://www.fastcompany.com/40580132/here-are-the-u-s-cities-that-have-banned-plastic-straws-so-far

[5] https://www.cnbc.com/2018/06/15/mcdonalds-to-phase-out-plastic-straws-in-the-uk-and-ireland.html

[6] https://chicago.eater.com/2018/6/20/17485768/lettuce-entertain-you-restaurants-plastic-straw-ban-chicago

Growing the Plastics Conversation towards Meaningful Change

A growing movement is afoot here in the Great Lakes – a broadening recognition and fierce determination to tackle the ubiquity of single-use plastics in our waters. Just in our small neck of the woods in northern Michigan, a number of nonprofit groups, concerned citizens, and conservation districts are seizing the moment and starting conversations through film, public education and strong campaigns to change the way we accept single-use plastics in our everyday lives.

In just the last three weeks, Green Elk Rapids hosted A Plastic Ocean at the Elk Rapids Cinema; the Benzie Conservation District hosted the Smog of the Sea at the Garden Theater in Frankfort; and the local chapter of The Last Plastic Straw hosted a free film screening of Straws at Michael Moore’s State Theatre, followed by a Skype conversation with filmmaker Linda Booker. Groups like Inland Seas that embraced the issue early are no doubt pleased to see their educational efforts on microplastics gain traction among students, citizens, and leaders.

Film organizers from The Last Plastic Straw – Linda Frank, Kathy Daniels, Claudia DeMarco, and Kristine Drake – rightly predicted that plastic straws are an easy way to introduce a community conversation about the impact of single-use plastics on human health, animals, and the environment. Did you know that Americans throw away over 500 million plastic straws every day? It’s staggering facts like this, coupled with visual scenes of plastics pollution, that make for a great film and engage viewers to take meaningful action. The  goal for every committed citizen and organization and every filmmaker is to harness this engagement around plastic straws and shift the way individuals and businesses think about plastic pollution and our society’s disposable culture at a macro scale. 

At FLOW, we too are committed to this global public policy initiative to prioritize protecting the human and ecological health of the Great Lakes ecosystem and combatting climate change. We know that this transition will be hard, but Rachel Carson reminds us why we must act now:

Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director

“We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost’s familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road-the one ‘less traveled by’-offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth.”  – Silent Spring, 1962.

Join FLOW’s Get Off the Bottle campaign. The response has been incredible. Students, citizens, and businesses are spreading the word with our informative blogs, stickers, yard signs, and pledge to get off bottled water and plastics.


Skip the Straw

The production of plastic was first viewed as a miracle, the birth of a surprisingly durable material. But used as a disposable material, that durability is part of its downfall. Plastic degrades very slowly, and it often ends up in the environment and in the food chain. In 1950, the global market generated 1.7 million tons of plastic. This amount has been steadily rising, reaching 300 million tons in 2013. A tremendous amount of this plastic is disposable and completely avoidable.

The fourth Friday of every February is Skip the Straw Day. This day originated in Michigan, proposed by Whitehall Middle School students who were concerned about the impact of the straws on the environment.

The Great Lakes are a significant area of concern for plastic waste, and plastic straws are among the top ten most frequently collected items during Great Lakes beach cleanups. One sweep of a fairly well maintained Great Lakes beach resulted in 414 straws in just a couple of hours. In 2016, 29,500 straws were recorded as part of cleanups.

What you can do:

  • Skip the Straw. Often, a drink is served at a restaurant with a straw (or sometimes two) simply for decoration. When ordering a drink, you can ask for no straw.
  • Use a reusable straw. Some straws are made of reusable materials such as glass or steel. If a straw is needed or desired, opt for one of these instead.
  • Make an impact. If you are serving a drink, ask if a straw is preferred. Encourage businesses to switch to compostable straws or to go strawless entirely.

Americans use 500 million straws every day. This is entirely avoidable. It is time to move away from these single-use plastics that end up in our Great Lakes.


Considering Knowledge of the Great Lakes and Plastic Bottles

Raised on Schoolhouse Rock!, I learned from a very young age that “knowledge is power.” While at first just a witticism I repeated in the show’s quirky inflection, the saying soon became real. This was one of the first bits of power I acquired, and I ran with it.

I learned to read at a young age, and I soaked up anecdotes and information as best I could. Though nowadays I enjoy spending my naptimes actually napping, I spent them as a youth reading rather than snoozing, and I quickly gained the wisdom of the Hardy Boys and Encyclopedia Brown. I memorized my favorite poems, by the great Shel Silverstein.

When I did not become the most powerful of all from this process, I realized that there are other forms of power as well. Unfortunately, not all of these other forms of power are as gentle or as honest as knowledge. Nonetheless, I always found the power of knowledge to be a worthy adversary, the one that wins out in the end, and I have stuck with it.

As an individual, the greatest way to impact the world I have found is through spreading that knowledge. It is the power that expands and grows as it is shared.

In my everyday life, I learn what I can. What is happening to the waters in our Great Lakes? Who is responsible for the decisions that impact the Lakes? Even simply: where does my drinking water come from? I do my best to distribute this power to friends, family, and even strangers. Though I do run into opposition, this is often excellent for the sake of knowledge. A debate often only leads to more knowledge gained on both ends.

If I see a friend of mine planning to purchase a plastic bottle full of water to accompany his sandwich for lunch, I will interrupt to offer my knowledge as well as several alternative solutions. Perhaps he could sip from the drinking fountain in plain sight. Or he could go grab the reusable water bottle in his nearby car. Or he could ask for tap water in a glass instead of bottled water.

These alternatives not only support the wallet, they support the health of the Great Lakes, and the right for safe, clean, and accessible water for everyone. Water is public. Water is a human right, and we should not be paying to allow a private company to profit from our water.

Nayt Boyt

We must share this knowledge, that the Great Lakes and their waters must be protected for our uses. That the ancient but relevant Public Trust Doctrine reinforces the fact that our leaders must protect those waters for our uses. We must first acknowledge any threats to these waters, and then eliminate them, so that this treasure will be here for our use and enjoyment, for our livelihood.

I expand my power of knowledge to you today, and by extension, to the people you interact with. The next time you plan to grab a bottle of water, or see another who does, consider the alternatives. Make sure the actions in your life support a thriving future for the Great Lakes, and for all of us.