While enjoying an afternoon on our rivers, the last thing you want to see is discarded waste floating by or think about how our drinking water has become threatened by our trash. But here’s the buzz-killing reality: Since January, 800 of our volunteers have donated 3,200 hours to cleanup our local waterways, 90+ cleanups, 200+ river miles swept and we collected 44,000 lbs of trash and pollution from the Waccamaw, Lumber, Black, Pee Dee Rivers and the Intracoastal waterways and surrounding marshes, wetlands, swamps, beaches and riverbanks. That is 22 tons of trash removed from our drinking water. These efforts make a tremendous difference but we have millions of tons of debris floating around in our water—and plastic is uniquely problematic because it’s nonbiodegradable and therefore sticks around for a lot longer (like up to 1,000 years longer) than other forms of trash. 80 percent of marine litter actually originates on land—either swept in from the coastline or carried to rivers from the streets during heavy rain via storm drains. The best way to protect our drinking water and waterways is to keep plastic out of the waste stream and there are many small ways you can have a big impact too; take a look at Tata & Howard’s suggestions (Newsworthy; April, 2018):
1. Wean yourself off disposable plastics.
Ninety percent of the plastic items in our daily lives are used once and then chucked: grocery bags, plastic wrap, disposable cutlery, straws, coffee-cup lids. Take note of how often you rely on these products and replace them with reusable versions. Bring your own bags to the store, silverware to the office, or travel mug to your local coffee shop and make it a habit.
2. Stop buying water.
Each year, close to 20 billion plastic bottles are tossed in the trash. Carry a reusable bottle in your bag, and you’ll never be caught having to resort to a Poland Spring or Evian again.
3. Boycott microbeads.
Those little plastic scrubbers found in so many beauty products—facial scrubs, toothpaste, body washes—might look harmless, but their tiny size allows them to slip through water-treatment plants. Opt for products with natural exfoliants, like oatmeal or salt, instead.
4. Cook more.
Not only is it healthier, but making your own meals doesn’t involve takeout containers or doggy bags. For those times when you do order in or eat out, bring your own food-storage containers to restaurants for leftovers and let the restaurant know you don’t need plastic cutlery. Skip the straw and join over 250 restaurants in the Grand Strand Strawless Summer campaign.
It seems obvious, but we’re not doing a great job of it. Less than 14 percent of plastic packaging is recycled. Confused about what can and can’t go in the bin? Check out Earth911.org Recycling Directory.
6. Support a bag tax or bag ban.
Urge your elected officials to follow the lead of those in Mount Pleasant, Beaufort County, Surfside Beach, by introducing or supporting legislation that would make plastic-bag use less desirable.
7. Visit local farmers markets, farms and buy in bulk
Buying fresh and local at farmers markets helps your local economy, supports a healthy lifestyle and is ideal for the environment. If each of us spent $100 more a year on local produce it would add 3 million to our economy. Lettuce turnip the beet and buy local. Ditch, single-serving yogurts, travel-size toiletries, tiny packages of nuts—consider the product-to-packaging ratio of items you tend to buy often and select the bigger container instead of buying several smaller ones over time.
8. Put pressure on manufacturers.
Though we can make a difference through our own habits, corporations obviously have a much bigger footprint. If you believe a company could be smarter about its packaging, make your voice heard. Write a letter, send a tweet, or hit them where it really hurts: Give your money to a more sustainable competitor.
9. Pick up trash and don’t litter.
It’s disappointing when you see someone litter and the majority of us just walk right past the trash we see on the ground; perplexing huh! If more people knew we are eating and drinking our own waste, more people will pick it up. There’s even a name for runners who jog and cleanup trash too, Ploggers!