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Average Citizens Continue to Foot the Bill

Florida Cleanup Highlights Need for Accountability from Multi-Billion Dollar Industries

[1/15/21]

It seems normal these days in America that average citizens bear the responsibility of cleaning up after the powerful & wealthy. The latest example? At the end of a long year in quarantine, thousands of South Florida citizens showed up for the largest cleanup on record of a coastline [Guinness World Records, December 19, 2020]. Volunteers came out from all along Florida’s southern coast. A record-setting 633 scuba divers recovered 1,600 pounds of lead fishing weights alone, the result of years of anglers cutting bait (South Florida 6 News). Ocean conservation group Project AWARE estimates the recent Florida cleanup removed about 3,200 pounds of marine debris. 

A full day's work can’t undo the damages accumulating, but the event’s value came from the message they were sending. With so much waste, beach cleanups often feel like an act of futility, but the new social distancing norms made this effort an opportunity to lift spirits during an economic crisis brought on by the pandemic. Unlike many of the corporations responsible for this mess, local businesses & community organizations are the ones fighting for their survival, yet so many still take time to participate in environmental cleanups like this one. Local Boy Scout troops, environmentalists, and church members joined workers from NGO “It’s-Elemental” as masked cleanup crews on a mission. “[It was] such a gorgeous day,” noted event organizer Derek McNulty, “...with people being isolated for so long by COVID-19, it was nice to just be [together] outside.” 

Florida in the Lead

Here’s something not often said; perhaps the rest of the country can learn a thing or two from Florida. Assertive action towards ocean conservation with NGO leadership and community support is the basis for change. In Florida, it’s a bit more of a norm. As a peninsular state with heavy fishing- and tourism-based economy, fighting ocean plastic & waste is taken seriously. Since 2012, locals have welcomed numerous policy changes, like Ocean Conservancy’s #SkipTheStraw campaign, with hundreds of restaurants pledging to limit usage of single-use plastic straws, and counties limiting plastic utensils. (We’re all for these alternatives instead)

Missing Accountability

The irony of everyday Americans shouldering the responsibility for cleaning up what billion dollar industries have wrought is simple: the companies most responsible are amongst the most profitable

In March, US production sites for Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Nestlé, and Unilever were found to be responsible for half a million tonnes of plastic pollution in six developing countries each year (Tearfund). Downstream product companies like Amazon are reported to have contributed over 450 million pounds of plastic just from their packaging(link). These companies' suggestions? Recycling. But with China ending its policy of accepting 80% of the world’s recycled plastics in 2018, demand has evaporated, causing recycling centers to shut down across the nation, diverting most plastic to landfills and waterways. 

When attempting to quantify the fiscal damage that comes from plastic pollution, the factors go beyond just environmental when you consider the damages to our health. Nitrate, sulfate and carbon pollution from petroleum manufacturing kills hundreds of thousands every year, and leads to long-term harm to reproductive, digestive, neurological, and respiratory systems. When they break down, microplastics work their way aggressively into our food chain--on average, most people ingest a credit card of plastic every single week. The statistics are stunning--reports estimate between 400,000 - 1 million people die annually just from diseases of mismanaged waste streams. Scientists estimate the deaths from particulate air to represent roughly $89 Billion, and while we haven’t fully captured the final picture of plastic’s effects on society, all indications point to irreversible changes(Fast Company). 

You know who isn’t suffering? The industry executives who agencies like the EPA are supposed to regulate. Demand continues to grow for many petroleum products piling up on our seaside as companies like Exxon rake in billions of dollars in profit--not revenue, profit, the thing that is supposed to come after all your expenses have been paid. Ask yourself, who should be footing this bill-- non-profit organizations and communities, or the profiteering, multinational leaders in global pollution?

Our "Accountabili-Buddy"

Far tougher questions exist for the newly-led EPA as the authoritative body charged with holding these corporations accountable. The previous administration allowed for just shy of a 10% increase in air pollution (YOY), replacing PhD scientists and environmentalists with lobbyists for Big Oil as department heads. While some are being held accountable,the current backlog of damages is so immense, new leadership has their work cut out for them. This writer’s recommendation is that the largest corporations receive fines representing the external impact of their profits. However, the true benefit of such financial penalties lies in their ability to incentivize carbon polluters to switch to renewable solutions. Newly at the helm, the hope is that Michael Regan’s EPA will elect to take on the Old Boys’ Club of polluters and institute a level of accountability that gets America back on track. 

One thing is for certain--while there are many average individuals who care enough to make change, more will come from demanding these industry giants pay their fair share. That is, change is up to you. Take action today and demand justice for our environment. Contact the EPA (via phone or email) and demand they collect damages from these violators to improve our society and the environmental impacts they are causing.

They need to hear it from you--Corporations are not People, and Profits must account for External Expense. Remind your leaders who they work for.

Henry Barnet, Director

  • Phone: 202) 564-2480
  • Email: barnet.henry@epa.gov

Pam Mazakas, Deputy Director

  • Phone: 202-564-2480
  • Email: mazakas.pam@epa.gov

Chuck Cavanaugh, Associate Director

  • Phone: 202-564-2480
  • Email: cavanaugh.charles@epa.gov

Not sure what to say? At your service. Insert your name into the below template.  

“Hello,

My name is [---], a representative of Citizens for Accountability, calling to address the pollution crisis impacting communities around me.

Companies like Dupont, Koch Industries and BP continue to profit tens of billions of dollars while facing little to no consequences for damages they create. For the sake of our own country, and the world this must change.

Being in the position to hold these violators accountable, we need you to represent us, the people. As responsible citizens we must demand you pursue rightful assessments and ensure a safe and healthy future for all. 

Thank you for your time and have a blessed day.”

 

-- Staff Writer, Prithvi Chauhan

Editor, J.L. Hinshaw

 

References:

"Exports of Plastic Waste from The United States in 2019, by Select State (in Metric Tons)." Statista, Statista Inc., 7 Apr 2020

https://www-statista-com.csulb.idm.oclc.org/statistics/1190710/us-plastic-waste-exports-by-state/

https://www.sun-sentinel.com/local/broward/fl-ne-record-beach-clean-up-20201219-idhk4jyuzjharhfos4mkhijxum-story.html

https://www.nbcmiami.com/news/local/south-florida-divers-set-guinness-record-for-cleanup/78049/#:~:text=More%20than%20600%20divers%20scooped,Deerfield%20Beach%20International%20Fishing%20Pier.

https://www.cnn.com/2019/06/16/us/divers-largest-underwater-cleanup-record-trnd/index.html#:~:text=Hundreds%20of%20divers%20donned%20their,International%20Fishing%20Pier%20in%20Florida.

https://www.fastcompany.com/90425011/coca-cola-nestle-and-pepsico-are-the-worlds-biggest-plastic-polluters-again

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/10/201030142125.htm#:~:text=Taking%20these%20factors%20into%20account,environment%20beyond%20its%20own%20borders.&text=Combined%20with%20waste%20exports%2C%20this,of%20plastics%20into%20the%20environment.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/mar/31/report-reveals-massive-plastic-pollution-footprint-of-drinks-firms#:~:text=Four%20global%20drinks%20giants%20are,day%2C%20according%20to%20a%20report.

https://www.statista.com/chart/22959/metric-tonnes-of-plastic-packaging-produced-annually/

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