Switching to a Cleaner Island

Back to Article
Back to Article

Switching to a Cleaner Island

Talia McWilliams, Story Author

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.


Email This Story






Plastic pollution is the number one threat to ocean health worldwide, according to Greenpeace. In 2050 it is predicted to be more plastic in the ocean than fish. Plastic pollution is the build-up of plastic objects in the Earth’s environment. This build-up is extremely hazardous to Cape Ann’s wildlife, ocean, and community. However, we can switch to an alternate plastic called biodegradable plastic, to reduce the plastic build-up in our environment. Cape Ann’s community can encourage this switch if we develop campaigns to ban disposable plastic water bottles and bags while financially subsidizing alternative plastic prices until the industry’s prices are competitive with petroleum-based plastic products. Along with subsidies, the Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce could research options to attract the bioplastic to Cape Ann. Cape Ann’s environmental health and human health both benefit from transitioning from petroleum-based plastic use to alternative plastic use.

Cape Ann’s marine animals are in a crisis from our irresponsible plastic marine debris habits. Locals and tourists are leaving the plastic on beaches or on streets, contributing to the crisis. This plastic travels by rainfall or wind to our ocean. Plastic entanglement and poison within the plastics threaten marine animals. For example, National Geographic reported that on March 16, 2019, “Researchers pulled nearly 90 pounds of plastic waste out of the stomach of a young cuvier beaked whale that died in the Davao Gulf of the Philippines.” The whale starved to death because of the plastic in its belly.” If the thought of our community torturing local animals doesn’t make you think, maybe knowing it is fatal to people as well will. On Cape Ann, we eat a high portion of seafood, and we consume the toxic chemicals directly from our seafood. When we consume these lethal toxins, it leads to many diseases and even deaths. According to Scientific American in September 2018, “Both microplastics and these chemicals may accumulate up the food chain, potentially impacting whole ecosystems, including the health of soils in which we grow our food. Microplastics in the water we drink and the air we breathe can also hit humans directly.” Our community will become a disgusting and unforgiving place full of toxins and plastic debris unless it changes. If Cape Ann loses its natural beauty, it would directly affect tourism, which would devalue our local economy. Both the health and welfare of Cape Ann depends upon converting from traditional petroleum-based plastic to biodegradable plastic.

Biodegradable plastic and Bioplastic are alternative options. These types of plastics contain different ingredients but both share the same purpose of naturally diffusing into the Earth’s soil. Biodegradable plastic decomposes naturally in the environment. This is achieved when microorganisms in the environment metabolize and breakdown structure of biodegradable plastic. Chemical engineers designed a petroleum-type of plastic that they chemically combine with an additive, that breaks down quickly and naturally. On the other hand, Bioplastic is made out of organic materials such as vegetable fats and oils, instead of petroleum. Some bioplastics look virtually indistinguishable from traditional petrochemical plastics. This breaks down in a matter of weeks and does not leave toxic chemicals back into the soil. These alternatives would clean our community and help reduce the long term effect of plastic toxins and marine debris in our environment.

There are also other ways to progress the movement to a healthier community. Many other communities have started making their journey to a cleaner environment. Wales, England, reduced plastic bag consumption by 80 percent. Even small gestures make a difference, for example, Adelaide, Australia drastically reduced their dependence on landfills, leading to a cleaner quality of life. The city of Adelaide encourages citizens to consider giving gently-used, unwanted items to charity and to urge each other to rely on the city’s recycling services. Meanwhile, in America, there are approximately 50 billion plastic water bottles used last year. However, the U.S.’s recycling rate for plastic is only 23 percent, which means 38 billion water bottles and more than $1 billion worth of plastic remain in the environment each year. If Cape Ann started a plastic water bottle ban it would save the surrounding ocean animals and additionally save money by encouraging residents to use non-disposable water bottles rather than purchasing disposable water bottles. If Cape Ann banned disposable water bottles and plastic bags, the community would benefit by reducing landfill waste and decreasing marine plastic-debris. All of this would increase Cape Ann’s quality of life.  

Switching from deadly petroleum plastic to a cleaner biodegradable plastic is the next step to saving the planet. Cape Ann citizens, as a coastal community should lead the effort towards reducing plastic toxins and plastic landfill litter.  Both biodegradable and bioplastic are the main alternatives to petroleum plastic, but these products do not have established manufacturing factories or distribution. If Cape Ann citizens financially support the new biodegradable and bioplastics, they would benefit by reducing petroleum-based plastics in our local environment, while continuing to enjoy the convenience of plastic products.  According to Reuters August 21, 2018, “Biodegradable plastics are increasingly being used to manufacture packaging materials as consumers are showing preferences towards eco-friendly packaging are some of the factors fueling the market growth.” If Rockport and Gloucester provide Community Preservation funding, they could minimize the expense of people buying biodegradable and bioplastics, alleviating the financial burden of purchasing its higher-cost.  As biodegradable and bioplastics grow into a viable industry, its prices will decrease. Over time as its price decreases, Rockport and Gloucester could decrease their subsidies as a way to phase out petroleum-based plastics.

In conclusion, Cape Ann should follow the lead of other communities to ban disposable water bottle and plastic bags while financially supporting and market the new biodegradable and bioplastic industries with subsidies. Since it is a developing industry, perhaps Cape Ann could encourage the business community to consider building an alternative plastic factory on Cape Ann, to bring in new jobs along with a healthier environment. The NOAA marine researchers and the high school environmental club could monitor the plastic chemicals in the seafood catch and plastic marine debris on beaches and in the soil to determine the campaign’s effectiveness. Just as many Cape Ann residence could improve their health, many residents would benefit from a local new bioplastic industry while saving Cape Ann’s natural coastal marine environment.