The Plastics Plague

Megan goes a step over the need to recycle our plastics and explains why reducing our plastic waste altogether is crucial for the earths future.

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ACES leaders and Youth Corps team members

Editor’s note:

This is one in a continuing series of guest opinions about fostering environmental stewardship and leadership coordinated by ACES — The Alliance of Climate and Environmental Stewards.

Lots of people recognize the need to dramatically reduce the amount of plastics in our lives and in our oceans. We’ve all seen plastic debris wash up on our local beaches. Many have seen pictures of pathetic sea turtles with six-pack rings caught in their beaks. Also, autopsies of many marine creatures show stomach contents that contain plastics. Much of this debris is from single-use plastic items—beverage bottles, packaging, and bags.

The fossil fuel industry has taken advantage of our desires for convenient and inexpensive solutions and has successfully integrated plastic into nearly every aspect of our day to day. The literal sea of plastic around us has become so massive that it feels unsurmountable. How do we even begin to address it?

There are efforts in the civic realm to encourage recycling and bottle return. So far those appear to be only marginally helpful, even in a state like ours that seems to have higher awareness of the problem and processes to try and get a grip on it.

As useful as modern recycling is, it is far from perfect, especially in terms of plastic. Plastic, unlike glass and aluminum, can only be repurposed into lower-grade materials. As a result, plastic recycling is not often lucrative enough for some companies and is a half-measure against a more monumental problem. This shines more light on the need to reduce the volume of plastic that enters our ecosystems daily. To do this, we need systemic change in regard to our personal and cultural dependency on plastic.

In the last session of the Massachusetts Legislature, a bill was introduced to identify possible health detriments from plastics, limit their production, and set nationwide reduction target.

Several Massachusetts communities already ban the sale of all single-use plastic beverage bottles. Of course, these efforts are met with strong resistance for both cultural and commercial reasons. It’s hard for families to give up something so useful as a lunch bag water and it’s hard for supermarkets to ignore the demand of the public and sales and profit pressures that “big soda” encourages. Plastic bottles represent only a portion of the plastics issue, yet a ban on them is a critical step towards tackling the crisis. The bans help to change plastic consumption habits and cause consumers and retailers to be more open to alternatives—such as installing water refill stations.

In current day-to-day systems, it is far easier to accumulate an entire garbage bag full of packaging and single-use waste in a day than it is to avoid it. For example, it takes conscious work and habit change to remember your travel mug so you can avoid getting the “to-go” cup for your morning coffee. Every time you make that choice to use a refill container, you are requiring that business to allow you to live in a system that avoids single-use items.

To effectively address the plastic crisis, it’s critical that the issue is addressed both personally and systemically, it cannot be one or the other.

West Newbury resident and ACES Board of Directors member Megan Chiango is committed to making meaningful contributions to the health of our local environment and believes that there are countless ways each of us can make a difference in reducing waste of all types.

Our Youth Corps asks you to consider the significance of the overwhelming plaque of plastic and participate in effecting change. Please take action as an individual, a family, and a community. They ask that you provide any thoughts about a project or practice that could contribute to a healthier environment. Send us a note at . To learn more about ACES and its Initiatives, visit

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Megan Chiango

A West Newbury resident and member of the ACES BOD, Megan is a mom of two amazing kids and has an insatiable desire to visually problem solve and form connections. After 20+ years of working in design, the focus of her artistic practice has shifted to community oriented environmental initiatives. She looks forward to applying creative thought and energy to tangible and meaningful acts of stewardship.

about the co-authors
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