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Earth Day 2018: End Plastic Pollution


Litter such as plastic detergent bottles, crates, buoys, combs, and water bottles blanket Kanapou Bay, on the Island of Kaho’olawe in Hawaii.

Silent Spring, Chris Jordan. Depicts 183,000 birds, the estimated number of birds that die in the US every day from exposure to agricultural pesticides.
By Nancy Brannon, Ph.D.

The theme for 2018 Earth Day is End Plastic Pollution. “Millions of tons of plastic waste end up in the ocean every year. And the trash stays there: Whether it’s grocery bags or water bottles or kids’ toys, plastic is practically indestructible,” NPR reported on January 25, 2018. “A new study based on four years of diving on 159 reefs in the Pacific shows that reefs in four countries are heavily contaminated with plastic. It clings to the coral, especially branching coral,” and sickens or kills the coral.

“From bottles and straws to cigarette butts, fishing nets, and plastic bags: Marine researchers estimate that well over a billion tons of plastic garbage make their way into the oceans every year. What can be done to stem the torrent of debris? It turns out, a lot can be done - and experts say it starts with prevention,” WABC News in New York reported April 5, 2018.

NOAA has collected data on the 1.4 billion pounds of trash entering the oceans each year. NOAA says that “The majority of pollutants going into the ocean come from activities on land. Natural processes and human activities along the coastlines and far inland affect the health of our ocean. Our oceans and waterways are polluted with a wide variety of marine debris ranging from soda cans and plastic bags to derelict fishing gear and abandoned vessels.”

The NOAA website has an informative page demonstrating how garbage patches are formed.
Chris Jordan has some astounding works of art that illustrate the enormous amount of trash that humans generate. His exhibition for Earth Day 2017 highlighted our ecological footprint in “Footing the Bill,” and addressed the urgent need to live sustainably within Earth’s finite resources.
Jordan’s subject matter is often “the immense scale of our consumption” (Intolerable Beauty: Portraits of American Mass Consumption). It is the life cycle of commercial products, the habits of the individual consumer and the social implications of systems of consumption: power, excess and waste.”

I first encountered Jordan’s works at an exhibition called “Running the Numbers: An American Self Portrait.” When seen at a distance, the works are a beautiful mosaic or simple work of art. But zoom in to see the individual elements that make up each piece. For example, “Three Second Meditation” depicts 9,960 mail order catalogs, equal to the average number of pieces of junk mail that are printed, shipped, delivered, and disposed of in the U.S. every three seconds! “Caps Seurat,” mimics a Georges Seurat painting, “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte,” but utilized 400,000 plastic bottle caps, equal to the average number of plastic bottles consumed in the U.S. every minute! The same Seurat painting is depicted in “Cans Seurat,” with 106,000 aluminum cans, the number used in the U.S. every thirty seconds! “Plastic Bottles” depicts two million plastic beverage bottles, the number used in the U.S. every 15 minutes! See these and other Chris Jordan works at:  and

Earth Day celebration began on April 22, 1970, at the beginning of the environmental movement, and has continued every year since. The stage had been set for growing environmental awareness by the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in 1962.  Her book raised public awareness and concern for living organisms, the environment and links between pollution and public health, focusing on the detrimental effects of a widely used pesticide DDT.

The idea for a national day to focus on the environment came from Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson, then a U.S.  Senator from Wisconsin, after witnessing the ravages of the 1969 massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California. Senator Nelson announced the idea for a “national teach-in on the environment,” persuaded Republican Congressman Pete McCloskey to serve as his co-chair, and recruited Denis Hayes from Harvard University as national coordinator.

On April 22, 1970, 20 million Americans participated in coast-to-coast rallies for a healthy, sustainable environment. Thousands of colleges and universities promoted education and awareness of the deterioration of the environment. A variety of groups that had been fighting against oil spills, polluting factories and power plants, raw sewage, toxic dumps, pesticides, freeways, the loss of wilderness, and the extinction of wildlife realized they all shared common values. That first Earth Day had led to the creation of the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts.

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