Sustain Jefferson Jefferson County, Wisconsin

Plastics pollution picked up and reported

A sizable crowd of people, including an entire class of middle schoolers and a high school group, fanned out across Jefferson County in September when we joined forces with the international The Story of Stuff Project to pick up plastic waste polluting public spaces and report what we found to a global database. Volunteers collected and identified by brand name, product and material type all the plastics pollution they found. Then we reported our findings to the worldwide database. Our report revealed the most waste plastics found littering Jefferson County were Pepsi soda bottles, followed by McDonald's waste and Walmart bags. Candy bar wrappers also were noted in our report. Our collection and reporting project was part of an effort to reduce the use of plastics by holding companies responsible for the waste they produce. 

Much of the conversation about plastic pollution focuses of waste in the ocean. We've all see the heartbreaking images of a turtle stuck in a six-pack ring or a seabird with a stomach full of plastic. What is happening to our oceans is deeply worrying, but it's just one part of the story.

Plastic pollutes at every step, not just when it enters the environment. Plastic begins its life as fossil fuels, so when we talk about plastic, we're also talking about the risks and consequences of fossil fuels -- from fracking pollution to leaky pipelines. After the extraction step comes production and here, too, we see pollution. The factories that produce plastics and its various chemical imgredients release a variety of pollutants, poisoning the surrounding communities.

What is a plastics brand audit? It's an important first step in the effort to end plastic pollution. Brand audits are a way to identify the plastic that is polluting our environment, so that we can hold the original producers and distributors of that plastic waste accountable. That's why the Story of Stuff Project and its partners, including Sustain Jefferson, in the #breakfreefromplastic movement planned a global week of action to conduct brand audits from Sept. 10-15, 2018. The data generated will be used to create a comprehensive report about plastic pollution around the world and help steer future campaigns to "break free from plastic."

Volunteers collected plastics pollution in the environment and recorded the brand of the plastic. Is it a Dove shampoo bottle? A Starbucks coffee cup? They also recorded the product type: household product packaging, such as cleaning product bottles; food packaging, such as fast food containers; or personal care product packaging, such as toothpaste tubes. The collectors also recorded the types of plastics they find using the numbered identification guide.

The data collected will be so important in helping to rid our world of plastic pollution. Join our on-going plastics project and be part of the break-free-from-plastic movement!