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OPINION: Microplastics are a serious health hazard and widespread environmental contaminant. We must do better.

As a retired teacher, grandmother and consumer, I was horrified to realize how much plastic we have in our house.

For many years, we've reduced the amount of plastic we use by using cloth bags, glass instead of plastic when possible, and when ordering takeout, bringing our own containers or refusing plastic or Styrofoam containers by requesting cardboard.

My husband and I have picked up trash in our neighborhoods, by water drains, and creeks, rivers and beaches for decades. Most of it has been plastic by far.

We've never been straw users, but switching to bamboo or stainless steel straws (or not using them at all) was easy. It's been a drop in the bucket, but it's something.

However, since my plastic survey of our home, we've taken further steps: switched to bamboo toothbrushes, bar shampoo/conditioner for hair, bamboo or natural silk for dental floss, reusing plastic containers and bread bags over as much as we can, buying loose fruits and vegetables, using paper bags instead of plastic if needed in the stores, and writing to companies and businesses we frequent asking them to reduce or stop using plastic use altogether. This includes plastic packaging, a problem we've encountered while doing more online ordering during the pandemic.

The science is clear. Recently, off the coast of Oahu, they discovered microplastics in the gut of fish larvae. Without a doubt, we all have some degree of microscopic plastic in our blood, because it's in our water. As an artist, I was horrified when I realized I was washing plastic down the drain every time I rinsed my acrylic paintbrushes. I stopped using acrylics immediately.

I discovered three tiers of plastic: the long-lasting, sturdy things like footstools, light switches, parts on refrigerators, stoves, microwaves, etc. This group of plastic is designed to last forever and, for the most part, it will.

The next group is the things like plastic Rubbermaid containers, bowls and plates — the more frequently used, but in this category, the plastic can last years before being recycled.

The last tier is the one that we've seen the most in our trash pick-ups daily: plastic bags, straws, wrappers, etc. This is the single-use plastic that clogs our drains and rivers, that ends up in being eaten by marine life. Though the first two tiers end up there as well, it takes longer to break down.

If we could all just stop using single-use plastic, it would make a huge, huge difference.

Also, plastic cannot be recycled more than a few times. Recycling is not the answer, I am sad to say. First, we need to refuse to buy plastic, reuse or repurpose it as much as we can, and the last choice is to recycle.

Check with your local recycling company if you need clarification on issues regarding plastic recycling. From what I've read and experienced, recycling centers are overwhelmed with plastic and have no choice but to be selective on what they can handle.

It is a heartbreaking problem. But if each one of us, each family in every city would do their best, we can slow down the huge amount of plastic entering our seas every hour of every day.

I've seen enough plastic pieces on beautiful beaches to make me committed to doing something, for my grandchildren, for all of us. Living sustainably starts with everyday simple choices.

Marianne Bickett is a retired art teacher and author. She lives in Sherwood.


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