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Earth Day 2018

Save the planet. It’s a rallying cry heard from environmentalists the world over — never more loudly than on Earth Day.

This year, as every other, Earth Day fell on April 22. It was the 48th anniversary of our country’s first such celebration.

Founded by Wisconsin Democratic Senator Gaylord Nelson in 1970, Earth Day was designed to educate and inform, to raise awareness and encourage action. Following its creation, then-President Richard Nixon, a Republican, established the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to protect our health and the planet’s.

Since then, human failings and environmental disasters have proved the importance of taking time to recognize earth’s fragility and the importance of doing what we can to save it.

This year, Earth Day focused on a campaign to end plastic pollution. About 300 million tons of plastic become bags, bottles, packages and other items humans use the world over. Only about 10 percent is recycled and reused, according to the Earth Day Network. The rest of that plastic winds up in landfills — or strewn along roadways and on city streets. Plastics leach chemicals into soil and water — which causes a whole host of other problems, from poisoning and killing marine life to disrupting human hormones.

Plastic is everywhere. Our food is packaged in plastic. Our drinks are bottled in plastic. It wraps, contains and seals. 

According to www.earthday.org, “Plastics are a problem mostly due to their un-biodegradable nature, the materials used for plastic production — derived from the refining of oil and natural gas — and the challenges behind properly discarding them.”

People can work to change that. In a simple cycle, we need to end plastic pollution. First, reduce plastic usage. Second, refuse to buy items made of or housed in plastic. Third, reuse the containers you do have. Fourth, recycle your plastic. Fifth, remove plastic — as best you can — from your life and from the planet.

Is that simplifying matters? Sure, but we have to start somewhere. Plastic usage can be greatly reduced, and its deadly impact on our planet dramatically lessened, if we only make the effort. 

Here are some staggering statistics from the Earth Day Network to think about:

To date, 9.1 billion tons of non-recycled plastic has been produced.

It generates 6.9 billion tons of plastic waste.

Only 9 percent of that waste has  been recycled.

About 12 percent has been incinerated.

The remaining 79 percent — 5.5 billion tons — has piled up in landfills and in the environment.

If we stay on trend, 13.2 billion tons will sit in landfills or in the environment by 2050.

And, we are reminded, it’s not just pollution that’s exacerbated by our use and improper disposal of plastic. The climate is affected, too. After all, plastic is a petroleum product, accounting for roughly 8 percent of global oil production. That production impacts us all. For one thing, it means we have to drill more for oil. It also means greater gas emissions of carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide, ozone, benzen and methane. All of this leads to climate change.

No matter how many would like to believe it, we don’t live in a bubble. Our reliance on plastic, our unwillingness to both curb our usage of it and our inconsistency in recycling it, has led us down a dangerous path. Much damage has been done, some irreversible. But we can make a difference, if we make immediate changes. 

There’s no better time to pledge to end plastic pollution than now, in honor of Earth Day. Even if it means swapping those disposable plastic bottles  for a single refillable water container, it counts — it all counts.