Last month my wife, Cathy Nevins, and I traveled to Cuernavaca and Mexico City with our friends, Sean and Kim Dougherty, who are very involved in a non-profit called VAMOS which supplies educational and craft training to young and older people at 10 sites in Cuernavaca and the surrounding community. It is amazing work, and the kids were adorable! While we were there we noticed the ubiquity of bottled water, large plastic containers as well as the 12 oz bottles. Why so much bottled water? Because the people either do not have access to running water OR if they do, the water is not safe to drink. As a result they rely on plastic containers of water. Yet, it is these plastic containers that invariably find their way into the waterways, and ultimately, into the ocean, with lots of other plastics. The plastic is everywhere, even at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, the deepest spot in the world’s oceans. And it is very harmful!
A few weeks prior to our trip to Mexico, we were sitting with our daughters, and the conversation got around to plastic straws. Cathy and I have begun the practice of asking our servers at restaurants not to give us straws with our drinks. We don’t want to contribute to more plastic in the waste stream, much of which goes into our oceans, and impacts wildlife. Our daughters scoffed at this practice, not because they don’t care about wildlife, or disagree that we ought to reduce the plastic waste that we produce. What they pointed out to us, and what was confirmed for us in Mexico, is that the real culprit of plastic in the oceans is the lack of access to clean healthy water in so much of the world. While we in the US and other primarily northern hemisphere nations are nibbling around the edges of problem of plastic in our oceans, the real challenge is to reduce the amount of plastic used to get clean healthy water to the children and families of many areas of the world. Of course, it is a lot easier to get a campaign going, via Facebook and Instagram, to stop people from using plastic straws. It is “low hanging fruit,” and a good thing in that it raises awareness and does a “bit” to reduce plastic waste. But if we want to see transformative change in the use of plastics, it would be wise for us to focus on the larger challenge: helping countries with few resources but lots of people to build the infrastructure that can deliver fresh clean healthy water to people’s taps.
Of course, all we need to do is think of Flint, MI or Washington, DC or Newark, NJ to realize that the same challenges face our own country. People in Flint are still receiving bottle water, several years AFTER the news hits of the water disaster there! Bottled water, for drinking, in a country that has the capacity to insure clean healthy water for its citizens. Even in Camden, it is not smart to drink the water that comes from the tap; we filter the water at CFET for our guests and youth. It is not that the water is not treated sufficiently, it is; it is that the pipes that carry the water to Camden residents are old and no longer capable of insuring the delivery of clean healthy water. So, we need to get our own house in order, and if we are truly interested in less plastic in the ocean, then we also need to support policies and organizations that are attempting to address the lack of infrastructure around water in other less resources areas of the planet.
You can read more about what’s being done at various places on the internet, including The Water Project, the World Health Organization, the United Nations, the Center for Disease Control and Water.org. Of course, there are plenty more. If you know of some that are not listed here, please visit our Facebook page or write us on Twitter @Camden_CFET, with the hashtag #WaterChallenge, and share them.
It is more important than ever to have access to solid, science-based, and up to date information on the environmental challenges facing us, as well as the policy proposals that can address the systemic roots of those challenges.
Do your “bit” by being informed, and after being informed, identify the ways you can be part of the solution. To avoid being informed is to be part of the problem!
Be safe! We are in the first day of a five day heat wave here in the Camden area! Check on your neighbors, that they are safe and cool!
Mark Doorley, Ph.D.
President Emeritus, Board of Trustees
The Center for Environmental Transformation