As we gear up for the holiday season, it is a time to give thanks. From my perspective, we are lucky to have an amazing school, a supportive community-oriented city, and a beautiful state with tons of outdoor and other opportunities. We are also lucky for our basic healthful environment: clean drinking water and safe food.

The holiday season is also a time to reflect on how we can cultivate a better world in the coming year, which sometimes means facing some hard facts–like the fact that not everyone is as lucky as we are, and that a thing that makes our lives easier in many ways is not sustainable. For one example, take plastics. We rely on lots of plastic in our lives, and unfortunately, their entire lifecycle (even when recycled), contributes heavily to climate change and other big environmental issues.

First, no guilt, no shame. We are all a part of a system that has made plastics ubiquitous. That said, we can face the truth, and consider how to disengage from this system and help it shift.

Here are some basic facts about plastics and climate:

According to a report by the Center for International Environmental Law on plastics and climate change, “Plastic production, use, and disposal (including incineration) all contribute significantly to global warming. In 2019, the production and incineration of plastic will produce more than 850 million metric tons of greenhouse gases—equal to the emissions from 189 five-hundred megawatt coal power plants. If things don’t change, by 2030, it will be equivalent to 295 coal plants, by 2050 615 coal plants.” (Read the report’s four page executive summary if you really want to go deep.)

To help you absorb those numbers from the report, here’s an image:

Recycling of plastic not only contributes to these emissions, but recycling is often not what it seems, or what we imagine it to be–a beautiful new beginning to a nuisance by-product–but rather something very disheartening, like in Indonesia where plastic that has been gathered for recycling in the U.S. is shipped. Instead of all of it being recycled, it is sorted by locals with a large chunk of it ending up with local tofu vendors…to use it as fuel…to make tofu that they sell to restaurants. The ashes are often strewn on the ground where chickens eat it, and local families eat the eggs…full of dioxin.

The entire process of producing plastics and disposing of them not only generates greenhouse emissions, but a host of other very negative impacts–the Indonesia tofu market being just one, human-centric illustration. Other specific impacts include sea animals dying after ingesting plastic (one whale consumed 88 pounds).

How do we disengage from plastic?

The truth is that our actions must be big and bold. The CEIL report highlights these top three solutions:

      1. Ending the production and use of single-use, disposable plastic. This is not just plastic bags at the grocery store, but all forms of single-use plastic, including packaging –like the kind used for convenience foods, or that comes around toys and other products. I know! That seems hard. But, as we enter the holiday season, we can consider making the kid drinks in a big pitcher, and offering a big bowl of something rather than individually wrapped treats. If gift giving is part of your holiday season, consider making your gifts, or choosing gifts that are handmade by a local artist, or items made from up-cycled materials. The more the public resists the market for plastics, the better.

      In Missoula, our city council is considering a ban on plastic bags in large retail stores. This is one small step toward systemic change, but we can be part of that change with our purchasing choices, or perhaps supporting a campaign to end plastics altogether? Check out the #breakfreefromplastic global movement for inspiration.

      2. Stopping development of new oil, gas, and petrochemical infrastructure. Working to stop development of fossil fuel infrastructure is a key solution to the climate crisis, and the plastic crisis, since fossil fuels are used to produce plastic products. Use your voice, your choice, and your vote to make change. Our future depends on clean energy, and a clean environment.
      3. Fostering the transition to zero-waste communities. And, guess what? Missoula has a zero-waste plan! Check out Zero-By-Fifty Missoula.

Committing to Change – Participate in Dear Tomorrow Missoula

My community group, Families for a Livable Climate, and Climate Smart Missoula are partnering to bring the Dear Tomorrow project to Missoula as a special holiday and New Year event designed to help families commit to change make a commitment to their future. Here’s the premise: Think of a person important in your life – your child, a friend, a family member or your future self. Imagine it is 2050 and they receive a message from you written today. Your message shares your thoughts about climate change and your promise to take action to ensure they have a safe and healthy world.

Lastly, here’s an everyday pro-tip for MIS families!
At the Good Food Store you can go to the Customer Service Desk and ask for reusable containers to use at the deli and food bars–you pay a small fee as a deposit, and then when you shop you trade in your used containers for fresh ones at the deli. They rock!