As the snowbanks of this lingering winter have finally dissipated, banks of trash are taking their places, with garbage sprouting as quickly as the springtime flowers. All along side roads and main thoroughfares, wrappers, plastic and paper drinking cups, straws, napkins, tissues, food containers, cigarette butts, school papers, and, yes, newspapers, are populating the gutters and littering the woods.
Since 1970, when 20 million Americans decided that our environment needed attention, April 22 has been celebrated as Earth Day— now attracting 200 million people worldwide in raising awareness of our fragile ecosystem every day, and encouraging action to preserve it.
This year’s Earth Day theme focused on reducing plastic pollution, a subject that resonates with many Newtown residents. Members of a local environmental group have drafted an ordinance for plastic bag reduction, which would ban plastic check-out bags and charge shoppers ten cents per paper bag. The hope is that residents would provide their own reusable cloth bags when shopping. Seven of the ten cents charged for paper bags, when reusables are forgotten, would be earmarked for environmental and infrastructure projects in Newtown. (Those on food or government assistance would be exempt from the bag charge.)
According to the EPA, Americans use more than 380 billion plastic bags and wrap each year. Last year, treehuggers.com reported that 22 billion plastic bottles are thrown away every year in the United States; plasticoceans.org notes that eight million tons of plastic gets dumped in the oceans each year, where marine animals and fish inadvertently (and often, fatally) ingest the plastic garbage.
Plastic packaging accounts for more than 14 million tons of plastic in a year, with another seven million tons of plastic plates and cups shaping the landscape. Half of the plastic is one-use only — then tossed. According to usa.oceana.org, “Only eight percent of the total plastic waste generated in 2010 was recovered for recycling in the United States.”
Plastic waste is just the tip of our problem. Americans generated more than 254 million tons of garbage in 2013, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Too much trash is dirtying our rural landscape.
We know we can do better than what this spring’s man-made detritus seems to suggest.
Town officials’ support of the Plastic Bags Reduction Ordinance, when it comes across the table, would be a positive step in reducing plastic pollution in town. Residents can take it upon themselves, in the meantime, to make reusable shopping bags the norm, and promise to reduce, reuse, and recycle so as not to trash the Earth.
Newtown Lions Club will conduct its annual Lose the Litter Day on Saturday, April 28, in conjunction with the 11th Newtown Annual Earth Day Festival. Individuals, family groups, community groups, and businesses are all welcome and encouraged to help clean up our town. (To register for a location, call 203-426-2116 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.)
“Give a hoot — Don’t pollute!” — Because the environmental icon Woodsey Owl’s admonition from the 1970s is as fresh today as it was when Earth Day was young.