Published April 8, 2019
Is there a product besides plastic that’s more omnipresent in people’s lives today? It’s everywhere, and in everything, from straws and Styrofoam, to grocery bags and water bottles.
There’s also a lot of it in the ocean — so much so that within the next decade there will be 1 pound of plastic for every 3 pounds of fish. That’s according to Judith Enck, the former regional administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Enck is now leading “Beyond Plastics,” a nationwide movement to engage college students and community leaders around the country in reducing plastic pollution.
Enck will visit UB next week to give a talk, and to meet with UB students and representatives from community organizations. Her talk is one of numerous events taking place during Sustainability Month at UB. Enck hopes her visit — and the information presented — will inspire people to put pressure on their local governments to address the issue.
“The problem is just getting worse,” says Enck, who served as EPA regional administrator during the Obama administration, overseeing environmental protection in New York, New Jersey, eight Indian Nations, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Enck’s project is based at Bennington College in Vermont, where, as a senior fellow in the Center for the Advancement of Public Action, she works with Bennington students to tackle the issue of plastic pollution.
Enck’s talk is set for 6 p.m. April 11 in room 2220 of the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB. Registration is required for the free event. Visitors should use the entrance at Main and High streets and sign in with security upon entering.
The timing of Enck’s visit is perfect. State lawmakers just made New York the second state in the U.S. to ban most types of single-use plastic bags. The measure allows individual counties to charge a fee of 5 cents on paper bags when the law takes effect next March.
That’s great, Enck says, but there’s more to be done. Much of the plastic that’s getting into bodies of water is coming from the land, whether it’s runoff from city streets or litter.
The issue also has social and economic impacts, not just environmental, says Sadie Kratt, the Student Association’s assistant director of environmental affairs. “It’s time for talks like these, because they’ll bring the solutions,” she said.
While in Buffalo, Enck will plug a model bill she’s proposed, called the “Plastic Trifecta.” It calls for the elimination of Styrofoam, would make plastic straws available upon request only, and bans plastic bags while placing a fee on paper bags. It’s all aimed at curbing the country’s proclivity for producing plastic packaging.
It won’t be easy.
“We can’t recycle our way out of this problem. We’re producing too much plastic, so we need to make less. It’s that simple. But it’s complex because as consumers we have very little choice,” says Enck. “You can be a vigilant, environmentally-conscious shopper, but it’s very hard to avoid plastic packaging.”
Kratt says plastic pollution is an issue students see around campus every day. “There are grocery bags in trees, straws that get half-buried in soil, and just immense amounts of plastic being throw away,” she said.
UB has made strides to help cut down on plastic — this semester, Campus Dining and Shops unveiled new “drink-thru” lids that eliminate the need for straws — but to be successful, Kratt says the university has to take a triple bottom line approach.
“We must cover ‘people, planet and profit.’ If we’re going to get rid of single-use plastics such as straws or plastic bags, we must find something that’s economically viable for the university to replace it with,” said Kratt, a junior majoring environmental geoscience and geographic information systems.
“I hope students leave feeling like they can make a difference by avoiding plastic packaging and using alternative products. This issue is very large and when students make the personal choice of not using plastic, it extends the impact far and wide.”