Those of us who live and work in Atlantic County may come from different backgrounds, and not always share the same beliefs, but there are some basic values on which I hope we can all agree.
From Caren Fitzpatrick, Atlantic County commissioner:
At the end of the day, we all want our community to be safe, we want our beaches and shared public spaces to be clean and beautiful, and we want our children to grow up in a healthy environment with clean air, food and drinking water.
Achieving these goals will take all of us working together to do our part — while acknowledging that those with the biggest environmental footprints have the greatest responsibility and must be held accountable.
That’s one reason why I welcome New Jersey’s new law limiting most single-use plastic bags and polystyrene foam containers — some of the most damaging, unnecessary and infuriating forms of pollution that various industries have allowed to become far too common.
I know the transition away from these familiar receptacles might be hard, even frustrating, for some of our residents and businesses at first, but it’s necessary. Millions of plastic bags end up choking our waterways and polluting our landfills every year, with disastrous consequences not just for our wildlife and ecosystems, but even our own bodies. Plastic breaks down over time, and the resulting particles of microplastic will end up in everyone’s air, water and food. How much, you might ask? It’s been estimated that right now the average person digests a credit card worth of plastic every week.
We are not all equally to blame
It’s important to recognize that we are not all equally to blame for the problem of plastic pollution. I know as much as anyone that it’s virtually impossible to check out of a grocery store today without plastic somewhere in your order. The simple truth is there are not always alternatives to plastic for the items we need, and we can’t blame each other for this failure. Instead, it’s the fault of industries that continue to manufacture — and profit from — plastics. As much as our individual actions to reduce plastic use can make a difference, we will never truly solve the plastic pollution crisis without addressing plastic production.
But while the rest of society is working to wean itself off plastics, chemical and fossil-fuel corporations are planning to produce even more. More plastic that is produced and sold means more that will end up in our landfills, rivers, oceans, the air our children breathe and the food we all eat. In Atlantic County, without an expansion, our landfill will soon run out of space for all this trash.
We can’t recycle our way out of this problem, either. A measly 9% of all the plastic ever manufactured has ever been recycled, and according to a PBS/NPR investigation, the oil and gas companies that produce plastics knew all along that most plastics would never be recycled. But they tricked us, through misleading ads and public relations, into thinking they would be.
“The industry sold the public on an idea it knew wouldn’t work — that the majority of plastic could be, and would be, recycled — all while making billions of dollars selling the world new plastic,” according to their report.
Hold corporations accountable
These are the same oil and gas companies, by the way, that also lied to the public for decades about catastrophic climate damage — from rising seas to stronger storms — that they knew their fossil-fuel products would cause for coastal communities like ours.
These corporate polluters use their money and their lobbying muscle to block policies that would address climate change and shift away from fossil fuels, and they are now doing the same thing to protect their plastic business. Countries from across the world are exploring a global treaty to limit plastic production, but it’s been reported that lobbyists for groups like Shell and ExxonMobil are doing everything in their power to block it — and keep flooding our communities with their plastic pollution.
That’s not a reason to stop acting locally — it’s a reason to do more. New Jersey’s single-use plastics ban is an important step. Making smart consumer choices, voting with your dollar, and investing in more eco-friendly products and companies are some others.
But while we all do our part to make Atlantic County cleaner and safer for everyone, it’s time for more corporations to step up and do their part. And if some still insist on blocking solutions, it’ll be time for public officials to do our part to hold them accountable.
Caren Fitzpatrick, Atlantic County Commissioner.