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It’s time to stop trash before it starts

  • Green plastic trash floating in river.



Monday, November 12, 2018

Another successful Source to Sea Cleanup of our rivers took place last month. This annual event gives us another year of proof that plastic is everywhere in our environment. Each year, plastic is one of the most frequently found trash items during the Cleanup. The worst part is that it doesn’t have to be this way. Immediate and practical solutions exist and it’s time we implement them.

The Connecticut River Conservancy calls on the Greenfield City Council to pass the proposed ordinance requiring retail establishments use only recyclable paper, reusable bags, or compostable plastic bags at check-out. We’re confident that before this comes up for vote again, the Council can find a way to make this ordinance workable for all residents regardless of access to reusable bags or ability to pay for paper bags. Additionally, we call on Greenfield residents to contact your City Councilor to tell them this issue is important to you and to our environment.

Each year, Source to Sea Cleanup volunteers pull tons of trash from in or near our rivers. Part of the problem is laziness and litterbugs. But ultimately this is a sign that trash is a bigger problem than previously thought. Persistent trash is a problem with how products are made – plastic never fully breaks down. It’s a problem with the waste systems designed to collect, recycle, and reuse – if proper disposal is not easy, then products become trash. And it’s a problem with producers and manufacturers passing the responsibility for the products they make to the users.

So if the problem is bigger than we thought, that means the solution needs to be bigger, too. We all have a responsibility to solve this problem—individuals, manufacturers, businesses, and government. We are responsible as consumers to make good choices in how we purchase and dispose of products. But that’s only part of the solution. Manufacturers, businesses, and government must do their part to overhaul the way we use plastic. We need to redesign our economy so there isn’t waste in the first place.

Just as we have come together to remove over 1,000 tons of trash from our rivers over the past 22 years for the Source to Sea Cleanup, we can unite in solving this problem. Reworking our waste systems and our economy is a big job. It will take time. It will require new ideas, new requirements, and many people changing behaviors. But we must start now. It’s critical, because our rivers deserve better. We deserve better and future generations deserve better.

CRC applauds the 83 towns and cities across Massachusetts that have already passed plastic bans. Let’s continue that momentum and move toward a state-wide ban on single-use non-recyclable plastic. Let’s expand programs and policies that encourage consumers and businesses to move toward more sustainable, compostable alternatives.

This is particularly important due to China’s new import restrictions on our plastic waste. The cost of plastic waste is beginning to outweigh its usefulness. But you don’t need to look across the globe to see the problem with this system. Just look out your window. How long until you see a plastic bag floating down the street or stuck in a tree? Let’s start there.

The power of one person is great. And the power of all of us working together is momentous. Together we can move manufacturers, businesses, and government to do their part to stop trash before it starts

Andrea Donlon is the river steward for the Greenfield-based nonprofit Connecticut River Conservancy, which organizes the Source to the Sea watershed clean-up each year.