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OPINION | RICHARD MASON: End the onslaught of single-use plastic

by Richard Mason | April 18, 2021 at 9:04 a.m.

According to ABC News and other media outlets, an Australian state recently became the first in that country to ban some single-used plastic items including drinking straws, stir sticks and cutlery.

"The new law bans the sale, supply and distribution of a range of single-use items in South Australia, Environment Minister David Speirs said. More items will be added to the banned list early next year including polystyrene cups, bowls and plates."

Single-use means that unless an item can be used again, it is banned. Are we ready for that? Of course not; but it's coming whether we like it or not.

As surely as the Internet swept across the world, banning one-use items will come to Arkansas and trickle all the way down to Smackover. We don't have a choice. Just as hundreds of other items now commonplace were unheard of when I was a boy, one-use items will be a thing of the past when a child born today reaches maturity.

We can see it happening in places such as Starbucks, where straws and one-use cups are starting to disappear. In the next 20 years we will have to change habits that are so much a part of life that we take them for granted.

The reasons are many, but let's start with energy. We never think of the energy it takes to produce a plastic throwaway cup, and when we see a shopping basket being rolled out of Walmart containing a dozen or so plastic bags, we shrug our shoulders. Plastic bags are so commonplace that we might notice when someone comes out with their own sacks.

We are acting as if we have abundant energy to produce billions and billions of plastic cups and sacks. Not to mention the untold billions of glass and aluminum cans that we throw away each day. The United States has or can buy enough energy to accommodate our extravagant lifestyle, but even our ability will see some constraints in the future.

Not only do we completely ignore the problem, but we seem to deliberately exacerbate it by putting a sack in a sack, or when vitamins are packaged in a plastic bottle inside a box, with cotton packed on top of the vitamins. If we multiply the one-use items we take for granted, it becomes obvious that while a rich country can afford to waste untold amounts of energy, there is not enough energy for undeveloped countries to match our lifestyle.

It's not just about energy. A global solution to the warming of our planet cannot be reversed without cutting the worldwide use of fossil fuel. Using less energy means a cleaner environment.

Litter will disappear as all those one-use cups, beer cans, and plastic bags become against the law.

The last time we were in Belize our guide Edwardo Brown recommended we take his boat and go to a remote uninhabited island about an hour out in the Caribbean Sea. We would snorkel while he speared lobster, then we would have a beach cookout. It was as great as it sounds, and everything went off without a hitch.

However, after Vertis and I finished snorkeling and were waiting for Edwardo to prepare the lobster, we hiked about a half-mile across the island to the Caribbean side. There wasn't a hint of civilization until we exited the last row of palm trees, and I gasped.

The prevailing west winds off the Caribbean had deposited hundreds of tons of plastic, aluminum, and glass garbage on a pristine white sandy beach. I can still see the mounds of cans and debris. There isn't a person alive who wouldn't have second thoughts about throwing a beer can overboard after seeing that sight.

Banning one-use items worldwide would clean up not just the trash on Calion Road in El Dorado and the beaches in Belize but would revolutionize our habits. No more drive-throughs where we would be handed a plastic sack with a Styrofoam box containing a hamburger, plastic knives and forks, and a plastic cup. It would slightly inconvenience us to move away from a throwaway society, but we would get used to doing it.

We stopped using plastic bags a couple of years back, and with self-checkout, it's a better way to shop. Once you start carrying your own sack it becomes automatic, and once you stop using plastic straws you wonder why you ever did.

Disposing of one-use items costs billions of dollars a year, pollutes the atmosphere, contributes to global warming, and wastes a huge amount of energy. Are we setting an example for the rest of the world in terms of promoting democracy, health, and education?

If you really believe in those goals, make a difference this Earth Month and commit to rejecting a single one-use item. It's the right thing to do, and we all can make a difference.

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