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Brookline, MA: Solutions to the Plastic Crisis

Solutions to the Plastic Crisis

Brookline, MA | Zero Waste Team

June 13, 2021 

What are the solutions to the looming plastics crisis?  Our communities are overwhelmed with single use plastics today, yet experts predict a 3 fold increase in production of plastics in the coming decades.  In a June 7th event sponsored by the Brookline Chapter of Mothers Out Front, Judith Enck, founder of Beyond Plastics and former EPA Administrator, demystified the plastics crisis.  Enck spoke to an audience of over sixty people from Brookline and beyond who are concerned about the environmental and health consequences of plastic and want answers.

The production and disposal of plastics are possibly the biggest climate change and environmental justice issue of our time”

Judith Enck

Enck clarified the connection between plastics and the climate crisis. 99% of plastics are made from fracked gas, from ethane, a by-product of methane.  (Methane, a greenhouse gas 84 times more potent than CO2, is what National Grid calls natural gas. Currently gas is so plentiful and cheap that plastics production by fossil fuel companies is growing rapidly.)  Ethane from fracked wells is carried by pipelines to giant cracker plants that use very high heat to crack open the ethane molecule and create ethylene, the feedstock for plastics.   The process of creating plastics from extraction by fracking, transportation, production via cracker plants emit large amounts of greenhouse gases, use and contaminate millions of gallons of water and great amounts of electricity.  Enck noted that there are currently four of these cracker plants producing plastics in the US, and 47 more have applied for certification.  “If these plants all go online, they will produce harmful emissions equal to 250,000 vehicles driving for a year.” 

Enck stressed the urgent need to address the health consequences of microplastics in our food, our water, in the air we breathe.  Microplastics are the tiny bits of plastic that result from the breakdown of plastic objects. “There are twice as many microplastics in bottled water as in tap water.  We are all eating and breathing a credit card’s worth of microplastic every week.”  She cited new research that showed evidence of microplastics in the placenta of newborns.

Plastic pollution isn’t a personal problem, it’s a systemic problem. There are steps we can take at home, when buying things, that matter but we need legislation at the local, state and national level to require changes at all stages of production and disposal of plastic to lessen the cost to humans and to the planet.”

Louise Bowditch, member of Brookline Mothers Out Front Zero Waste Campaign

People in Brookline and all over the country are waking up to the crisis of plastic pollution in our lives.  Rapidly rising cost of the disposal of solid waste has alerted municipal governments.  Ocean researchers are beginning to provide data on amounts of plastics in fish that humans consume.The good news is there are solutions, the are examples, Enck explained, of cities and towns that have succeeded in diminishing single use plastic, reducing solid waste to be landfilled or incinerated. Brookline deserves a plan to reduce plastics town wide, to reduce waste going to incinerators where poisons are released into the air and toxic ash remains for disposal.  

Enck left us with the message:”To stop plastic pollution, stop making plastic.”

Did you miss the talk? We encourage you to watch the recording at the top of this page – also available here on Youtube. You can also read the article Moving Beyond Plastics in Brookline in the Brookline TAB.  Interested in joining the Brookline chapter’s new Zero Waste campaign? Sign up here.