There’s too much plastic in the world.
It’s choking marine life, sucking the air out of oceans, carpeting beaches – even entire islands – and generally turning the world into a galactic landfill.
It’s an Israeli problem, too. Hold that thought.
In the past year, the media has become awash in stories about megatons of plastic waste that are being thrown away. Yes, much of it can be recycled, but the sheer volume of the plastic we toss overwhelms our capacity to do so.
Until recently, the United States sold millions of tons of its plastic waste to China, which banned almost all plastic imports in 2018. Now that tonnage either ends up in landfills, getting incinerated, which causes more pollution, or sent to another Pacific Rim country that can’t handle the volume.
And it winds up in the oceans.
The United Nations Environment Program estimated in 2014 that plastics in the seas causes at least $13 billion in damage annually to marine ecosystems – a major source of our food supply.
Plastic waste is literally everywhere, from big pieces floating on the ocean currents to tiny particles, called microplastics, traveling in the air and sea to places as far-flung as Antarctica.
Plastics have even been found in the bottom of the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean, the deepest spot on Earth.
Last November, according to the online magazine LiveScience, a dead sperm whale washed ashore on a beach in Indonesia. Its belly contained 100 plastic cups, four plastic bottles, 25 plastic bags and two flip-flops.
By the way, you probably have plastics in your body – a direct result of those microplastics traveling through the air and the fish and seafood you likely eat.
Plastics pollution is a Louisville problem. A couple years ago, I took a canoe trip up Beargrass Creek, from the mouth of the Ohio to as far as the waterway is navigable. Everywhere, garbage floated in the water, much of it plastics.
Also, as I mentioned above, the crisis – and that’s what it is – threatens the State of Israel.
Earlier this month, the BBC reported that the World Wide Fund for Nature, an NGO dedicated to wilderness preservation and the reduction of human impact on the environment, had identified nine Mediterranean coastlines most polluted by plastics. Sadly, one of the worst is in Tel Aviv, which, according to the WWF, has 21 kg of debris per kilometer – the third highest level of the coastlines named.
The other hot spots were Cilicia, Turkey, which had the highest level at 31.3 kg; Barcelona, Spain (26.1 kg); The Po Delta, Italy (18.2 kg); Valencia, Spain (12.9 kg); Alexandria, Egypt (12.7 kg); Algiers, Algeria (12.2 kg); Bay of Marseille, France (9.4 kg); and Izmir, Turkey (7.2 kg).
Israel’s plastics problem isn’t surprising. The Times of Israel reported that the country has the second-highest use of disposable plastic plates and utensils in the world, in absolute terms. It uses approximately 4.5 billion disposable plates and utensils every year, quoting a figure from the Zalul environmental organization. That volume puts Israel second only to the United States.
World leaders are aware of the crisis. This past weekend, the environmental ministers to the G20 Summit in Karuizawa, Japan, adopted a new implementation framework for actions to tackle the issue of marine plastic waste on a global scale.
But that’s only a beginning. The nations of the world must devote more effort and resources, sharing best practices and using fewer plastics whenever possible.
For instance, several countries, including Israel, have already banned plastic bags in some form. The Israel law, enacted in 2017, which requires grocers to charge 10 agorot (about 3 cents) per bag, resulted in an 80 percent drop in their use in 2018, according to the United Nations Environment Programme.
Plastic waste is not the only environmental crisis facing Israel. Other issues are water shortages, smog, loss of open space, species extinction and death of the Dead Sea. In other words, many of the same problems facing the rest of the world.
We in the diaspora tend to focus on Israel’s security – and we should. But Israel also faces environmental crises that threaten Jew and Arab alike. Those issues deserve equal attention. We ignore them at the country’s peril.
(Lee Chottiner is the editor of the Jewish Louisville Community.)