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Plastic Free Outdoors: Honoring Nature, Preventing Plastic Pollution

The webinar, Plastic Free Outdoors: Honoring Nature, Preventing Plastic Pollution, presented by the Plastic Pollution Coalition, addresses plastic pollution in National Parks and the harm that it can cause. Featuring two speakers, Sarah Barmeyer, Senior Managing Director of Conservation Programs at the National Parks Conservation Association, and Lara Levison, Senior Director of Federal Policy at OCEANA, who both specialize in plastic reduction. Both speakers addressed the sources and effects of plastic pollution and what can be done about it. The webinar also aimed to spread awareness of a recent letter addressed to Secretary Haaland calling on her to take action on banning the sale and distribution of plastic products in National parks.

During Sarah Barmeyer’s presentation, she discussed the current amount of plastic pollution in major national parks, such as Yosemite, and what has been done before to reduce it, as well as what future problems will arise. Plastic from non-reusable water bottles, bags, fishing lines and nets are all common sources of pollution (NPS). The National Parks Service manages 70 million pounds of waste annually, but unfortunately, doesn’t have adequate funding to appropriately handle all of it. This means there is still a lot of plastic remaining in the parks. She also discussed how national park attendance has increased 20% from 2013 (Iacurci, 2021) and shows no signs of slowing down, which means the amount of plastic pollution in each park will almost certainly increase with it. With the growing amount of plastic, Barmeyer emphasized the urgency and importance of developing effective solutions, namely a reduction in plastic so that it can be managed properly by the park and has minimal effects on the wildlife living there. One of these solutions was a program by the National Parks Conservation Association called “Don’t Feed the Landfills.” It was utilized in three major parks: Denali, Grand Teton, and Yosemite. Through this effort, they managed to keep 16 million pounds of waste out of landfills and cut landfill waste by nearly half with increased recycling and composting. This was a major effort that could not be done by one person, but Barmeyer did talk about what park visitors can do on their part to reduce plastic. Some of these actions included bringing your own reusable bag, water bottle, and containers and avoiding buying plastic products. One major point she made was that education is essential to making change, citing how one study showed that after educating participants on the harms of plastic, the number of them supporting a ban on these products increased (Barmeyer, 2021). It is amazing how small and easy individual actions can make a big difference, but frustrating when they are not acted upon, as is often the case.

Lara Levison primarily discussed the effects of plastic pollution on oceans. She emphasized how plastics entangle marine and freshwater organisms, causing serious injury or even death. These organisms can also ingest the plastic materials, which can cause suffocation, drowning, and disease (Reddy, 2018). She also emphasized how important understanding plastic pollution in water was in relation to national parks since 88 out of 423 national parks are coastal or include bodies of water. Lastly, she discussed how the way for the most effective anti-plastic action to occur is through legislation, and how important it was for individuals to sign petitions that can be found advocating for plastic bans and for them to put pressure on their representatives at the local, state, and national levels. Many people love marine life, however with the amount of plastic entering oceans, those organisms are being killed at higher rates. This could also be a way to appeal to people to encourage them to advocate for plastic bans and other regulations.

Plastic Free Outdoors: Honoring Nature, Preventing Plastic Pollution was very informative about plastic pollution and what needs to be done to really make a positive change. Both speakers gave their recommendations for reducing plastic pollution in parks, which included calling on the National Park Service to change their methods to reduce plastic, making efforts to phase out plastic products, and to make small changes like adding water bottle filling stations, as many small changes are what can lead to big ones over time. They also briefly discussed how education on plastic pollution can be incorporated into K-12 education, as teaching kids about making a change is essential for continued action against environmental threats in the future. Some of the ways they said this could be done was through arts and crafts, as those can elicit emotional responses to the harms of plastic, and teach kids that they are never too young to start making a positive change. Overall, this webinar was very informative about the harms of plastic pollution and what needs to be done about it on an individual and national level.







References


​​Iacurci, G. (2021, August 22). National parks are booming. That may ruin your next trip. CNBC. Retrieved 2021, from https://www.cnbc.com/2021/08/22/national-parks -are-booming-that-may-ruin-your-next-trip.html.


Plastic Pollution Coalition. (2021). Plastic Free Outdoors: Honoring Nature, Preventing Plastic Pollution. Plastic Pollution Coalition Webinars. Retrieved 2021, from https://www.plasticpollutioncoalition.org/webinars.


Reddy, S. (2018, September 24). Plastic pollution affects sea life throughout the Ocean. The Pew. Charitable Trusts. Retrieved November 29, 2021, from https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research- and-analysis/articles/2018/09/24/plastic-pollution-affects-sea-life-throughout-the-ocean.





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