Hi everyone. I’m back to this logbook. Three months ago, in Kolkata, I ended my navigation on the world’s fifth most plastic-polluted river, and today I am here, in San Francisco, California, preparing my row across the most massive floating accumulation of plastic in the world.
My first days here have already given me so many ideas to think about! (I’ll skip the chaos I am in due to the loss of two pieces of my luggage. Honestly, I am doing everything I can to avoid thinking about what consequences this could have). First of all, my experience in San Francisco is quite the opposite of the one I lived in Kolkata. In contrast, this city has a long history of initiatives for our environment, ranging from the use of alternative fuels to the attention to conservation and recycling, and is among the leading cities in the United States by the number of companies that actively pursue environmental policies. And the fact that it is also the second-richest city in the United States proves that what is good for the environment can also be good for business.
It seems the model city, a point of reference, and perhaps in some ways it is, but if you look up and observe this continent as a whole, the positive feeling passes instantly. Some people – such as president Trump –refuse to recognize America’s role in the ocean plastic crisis and have repeatedly tried to stymie international efforts to tackle the problem, while boosting the plastic industry at home and blaming other countries for the marine plastic pollution problem on Twitter: “The bad news is [this garbage] floats toward us” from “other countries very far away” and the U.S. is “charged with removing it, which is a very unfair situation.”
Asia is still the leading polluter, and is accountable for about 80% of marine pollution due to plastic. However, what Trump failed to mention is that most of it doesn’t actually come from there, but rather from right here, the United States and Europe. If we add to this the fact that the United States is at 9%, well below Europe (30%) and China (25%) in terms of recycling, it becomes more than evident that, on environmental policy, the United States is far behind many other countries.
Another thing I noticed while listening to people here is that, even though the plastic emergency is no longer just an environmental problem, but also impacts our health, those who are most committed to protecting the environment and reducing consumption of single-use plastic are labelled as socialists. As if human health or access to drinking water were a priority only for the most radical fringes. In March 2019 Devin Nunes, a Californian politician, on Twitter, complained about a server who had asked him and his guests if they really wanted straws for their drinks, concluding his comment with “Welcome to Socialism in California!” It is important to realize that more than 480 billion plastic bottles for beverages were sold in 2018 worldwide and that less than half of the bottles purchased were collected and only 7% of those collected were turned into new bottles.
Efforts to collect and recycle bottles to prevent them from polluting the oceans cannot keep up with their consumption. The time to solve these problems is now and we, as a society, must really consider whether, at last, it is worthwhile to give up some comfort in exchange for a healthier and cleaner environment. On the one hand, bans and regulations can be helpful, but acting immediately as more aware consumers is a necessary step. Using reusable bottles or bringing reusable bags to the grocery store are personal choices that can make a big difference. Sharing information with others and helping influence the community around us can help alter the marketability of plastic packaging, which in turn will drive change. If consumers choice shows that the mass production of plastic is no longer profitable, companies are bound to take note and find better, more sustainable options to get their products on the market.
Now more than ever, together we can make the difference.