Turning the tide on plastics

When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the bands of commerce that have interfered with the powers of the earth to sustain them, and disconnect those people from the Laws of Nature to which God has entitled them, a decent respect for the opinions of society requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. – A Declaration of Independence from Plastic, with apologies to John Hancock

What goes around comes around. My decades-long affair has finally come around to haunt me. I’m declaring my independence from a destructive co-dependency, and my town has joined me. But how will we ever achieve independence unless New Hampshire answers the call to action?

I’m not talking romance here. I’m talking about my complicated love-hate relationship with plastic. I love the single-dose vials of eyedrops that I can slip into my purse for whenever I need them. I appreciate that my raw meats are secured in leak-proof plastic wrap. Thank goodness I can take my trash to the transfer station without it oozing all over the interior of my car. But I hate that I can’t buy mixed greens for my salad without also buying the plastic box around it. Why does washing a load of laundry mean I have to purchase a thick plastic jug? Does my oatmeal really have to come in a plastic-coated cardboard container sealed with a plastic “safety” wrapper?

And now I learn that because much plastic is improperly disposed of, not recycled or non-recyclable to begin with, lots of it ends up in our rivers. Because all rivers run into the sea, it’s no surprise that the sea is full of plastic, too. There, it breaks into ever-smaller pieces until it becomes microplastic. As the kids at Hopkinton’s Harold Martin School pointed out in their “Plastic Attack!” research project, there is more microplastic in the ocean than stars in the Milky Way. “How,” you might ask, “does anyone know how many stars are in the Milky Way?” That’s exactly the point. The amount of microplastic in the ocean is unfathomable.

But forget quantifying it. I’m concerned about eating it. Marine creatures eat the microplastic and we eat them. Why does the marketplace force me to give up my beloved salmon and shrimp so I don’t have to eat plastic?

This brings me back to my personal declaration of independence. As a consumer, I’m supporting non-plastic commerce every day. My town is working hard to support each individual’s right to live plastic-free. Knowing that the Contoocook River flows through the heart of Hopkinton, into the Merrimack and then into the Atlantic, over 200 residents signed a pledge to “Keep the Contocook River Plastic Free.” The Recycling Committee is talking less about recycling and more about source reduction. Supported by Rotary, they have been handing out free reusable grocery bags as an alternative to single-use plastic bags. Pushed to action by students, the School Board is looking into reducing plastic waste in the three Hopkinton School cafeterias. The business community has joined the campaign as well: the Everyday Cafe switched to compostable cups and containers for take-outs; the Lakehouse Tavern refuses to use plastic straws; Indigo Blues, purveyors of fine clothing, sends purchases home in paper – not plastic – bags. Three On Main sells reusable water bottles. Marklin carries a beeswax alternative to plastic wrap.

We’re making waves, but one community can’t do this alone. The Legislature can help turn the tide by banning unnecessary plastics statewide, or enabling towns to pass their own ordinances. Our Representatives have co-sponsored bills to replace single-use plastic bags with reusables, restrict the use of plastic straws and clarify our solid waste laws to ensure that plastic is included in the regulated waste stream. People who care must let their reps know they support these bills.

A robust economy can be responsible, innovative and doesn’t have to be plastic-driven. It’s time for New Hampshire to meet this challenge head-on or give towns the authority to tackle it themselves. Granite Staters shouldn’t be forced to have plastic and eat it, too.

Bonnie Christie is a member of the Hopkinton Recycling Committee and the Contoocook and North Branch Rivers Local Advisory Committee.