Fighting Plastic Pollution with Dianna Cohen
Last summer while I was at my best friend from childhood's wedding in Montana, I was lucky enough to meet Dianna Cohen, a family friend to the bride and inspiring trailblazer in the fight against single-use plastic. Dianna, as a wedding present, had provided metal straws for everyone attending and, while we chatted, was sipping her cocktail from a metal tumbler that she had brought - something that was super fitting for the occasion (not your typical reusable water bottle) yet ultra eco-friendly. Her passion was infectious and deeply inspired me.
Thinking about the environment and reducing my family's footprint was something that I had certainly been trying to do previously, but after talking with Dianna and hearing more about her fight, I was completely inspired to commit fully to changing our ways. My children now know to ask for no straw at restaurants, are familiar with our waste system at home, and know that plastic hurts the ocean animals they love dearly. Hearing Wilder, my oldest, speak candidly about how bad plastic is for our planet not only makes me so proud of him, it also gives me hope for the future. Knowing that people like him will be the ones fighting for the environment gives me the same sense of optimism and excitement I felt being around Dianna.
Dianna, first and foremost an artist, co-founded Plastic Pollution Coalition in 2009 and is currently the CEO. PPC's main goal is simple: REFUSE SINGLE-USE PLASTIC! Through its network of artists, activists, and members, PPC is working hard to minimize plastic pollution and its toxic impact on humans, animals, oceans, and the environment. See below for a few questions we asked Dianna about this issue, and how we can all do our part to help. We encourage you to join her fight by becoming a member and acting to work towards a plastic-free world for our children and future generations. In addition, at the very bottom, see some of my picks for reducing my family's plastic use.
1. Can you put into perspective the massive problem we are facing with plastic pollution currently?
We’re in the middle of a global plastic pollution crisis with plastic production slated to increase by 400% in the next decade. The amount that we’re creating is not sustainable nor compatible with life on this planet. In the United States, we currently recycle less than 9% of the plastics we use. Based on existing infrastructure and the closed door from China, U.S. plastic recycling rates are projected to drop to 4.4% in 2018. Plastics in the ocean have basically created a toxic plastic smog. There are plastic pieces floating on the surface, throughout the water column, and even down to the deepest depths of the ocean floor. Microplastics are being ingested by the entire marine chain. If business continues as usual, experts predict our ocean will have more plastic than fish (by weight) in 2050.
2. We know the crazy impact plastic has on the environment and oceans - how does single-use plastic affect our human health (and the health of our children)?
Toxic chemicals adhere to plastics very easily. PCBs, DDT, pesticides, flame retardants, mercury, and other organic pollutants can be absorbed by plastic. In the ocean, small pieces of plastic are often mistaken for food or plankton and are eaten by creatures big and small. Those toxic chemicals pass into animals, and then when we eat the fish, those toxic chemicals enter our bodies as well. It’s time for all of us to wake up and move away from toxic plastics! Toxic chemicals are leached by plastic in everyday items such as baby bottles, food storage containers, and water bottles. The chemicals in plastic have been linked to lower sexual function, sterility and infertility, obesity and diabetes, breast, brain and prostate cancer. Babies exposed in utero are subject to shortened anogenital distance, smaller penis size, feminization of boys and early menses in girls, lower IQ, and attention deficit disorder.
3. How does the Plastic Pollution Coalition tackle head on the massive problem of plastic consumption in today's age and what are your future plans for the organization?
PPC provides a platform to amplify effective strategies and common messaging in order to foster sustainable solutions. We aim to empower people and organizations to take action to stop plastic pollution and to live plastic free. Join our global Coalition here. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram to find out how you can take action to stop plastic pollution in your community.
We envision a world free of plastic pollution, where:
- Individuals and systems embody zero-waste values of reusability and durability so plastic pollution is reduced at the source: in use and production. Packaging and goods are intentionally designed to be useful throughout their existence. The industry actively takes extended responsibility for all products and packaging throughout their lifetime, from cradle to cradle.
- Governments, industry, and NGOs work collaboratively to create and sustain a circular system, eliminating the concept of "waste" by designing an ongoing use and positive outcome for every product and byproduct.
- Humans, animals, and bodies of water thrive within the global ecosystem.
4. What are the easiest steps we can take, and rules we can follow to reduce our plastic consumption now?
We ALL can do something to stop plastic pollution and its toxic impacts on animal and human health, our oceans and waterways, and the environment. Take the first step by thinking reusable and not “disposable.” Bring your own bags to the market, refuse plastic straws when you order a drink, and bring your own reusable water bottle. To take the next step, purchase more locally grown/raised food without plastic packaging and cook at home. Reduce the amount of processed and fast food in your diet and you’ll be doing something good for your health and the health of the earth.
- Think reusable, not disposable.
- Use a steel, ceramic or glass coffee cup for all to-go cups and in general.
- Bring your own reusable bags.
- Shop at Farmers Markets and health food or grocery markets and bring your own bags and jars for bulk and produce.
- Invest in a reusable steel or glass water bottle.
- Carry bamboo or steel reusable utensils.
- Always request no straw or bring your own.
- Eat in or bring takeaway steel or reusable lunch box (bento box).
5. Can you recommend certain companies or other organizations to support that are doing their part to reduce plastic and help our environment?
Yes, support companies and brands who have reduced their plastic footprint on the earth. The global movement Break Free From Plastic provides a Brand Audit Toolkit for people participating in cleanups to audit and identify the brands and corporations responsible for plastic pollution. Data from brand audits help hold Corporations accountable and allow the public to push for Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR).
6. What is your next goal for our environment and how can we help accomplish this?
Next big win is to phase out plastic single-use food packaging and plastic bottles and replace them with non-toxic non, reactive glass, steel, wood and other more durable reusable materials. We need a major systems shift and behavior shift away from disposable to reusable. We need to stop poisoning ourselves, our children and animals and to stop polluting the planet, on earth, ocean and in the air.
7. Can you recommend certain companies or other organizations to support that are doing their part to reduce plastic and help our environment?
Check out Plastic Pollution Coalition’s YouTube channel for various videos
Short documentary: STRAWS: Named one of the "5 documentaries that will make you rethink single-use plastics" by One Green Planet
8. How has being an artist influenced you starting the PPC?
I have learned a great deal about plastic as a material and plastic pollution through my artwork and through my love of the ocean. As a visual artist, I often strive to think outside the box, use all the tools in my kit and aim to keep the big picture and longer terms goals in mind.What does or did a world without plastic pollution look like? How do we aim for zero-waste? Nature doesn’t create any waste, so why do we? Plastic is a material (primarily made from fossil fuels) which the earth cannot digest. Let’s refuse single-use plastic every day. This is a great place to begin…
KK's No Plastic Kid Picks
LUNCHBOX: Super durable, easy to clean, and the healthiest option for kiddos. My kids love theirs and have used them from pre-school now into elementary.
PAPER SNACK BAGS: Instead of zip lock bags.
COMPOSTABLE TRASH BAGS: Instead of using the typical plastic bags for diaper pails, we use compostable trash bags.
STAINLESS STEEL WATER BOTTLE: They go everywhere with us.
KID LUGGY: For the farmers market to avoid using plastic bags for produce - we have the adult one too.
TRASH: We currently have 3 trash pails in our kitchen, 1 for recycling, 1 for compostable food, and 1 for trash. It is great to teach the kids about the difference, and also see how much trash we have cut down on since making the change.
KEEP KIDS IN THE LOOP: We really try to include the kids in the conversation about what a single-use plastic is and why it's bad for the earth. They like being part of the solution - they really get on board, it's inspiring.
EATING OUT: At restaurants we try to always mention to waiters before being served water that our kids are fine with glass, as opposed to plastic cups with lids, and that they do not need straws. Our kids have used glass drinking cups since they were little so it is no inconvenience to us.