Environment North Carolina hosts panel discussion on plastic pollution with experts

Environment North Carolina hosted a panel discussion following a virtual screening of the documentary, The Story of Plastic, which takes a sweeping look at the man-made crisis of plastic pollution and the worldwide effect it has on the health of our planet and the people who inhabit it. The panel included Bonnie Monteleone, Executive Director and Director of Science, Research and Academic Partnerships for the Plastic Ocean Project; N.C. State House Representative Zack Hawkins for House District 31; and Zoë Carpenter, featured journalist in the documentary.

“With the recent release of The Story of Plastic and the current circumstance in which we find the world,” said Kara Nunnally, policy advocate fellow for Environment North Carolina, “it was the perfect opportunity to discuss such a pressing topic.” The panel expanded on recycling, product packaging, extended producer responsibility, and actions consumers can take.

The film digs deeper into the systemic issues of plastic packaging and producer-driven messaging, and considers possible solutions to the growing recycling crisis.

“[Corporations] started figuring out that we could transport plastic at a better rate than glass and metal...but there is a cost to that,” said Bonnie Monteleone of Plastic Ocean Project. “And that cost is this pollution that is ending up from start to end and affecting everyone, especially the most vulnerable populations.” Bonnie went on to explain the negative climate and health effects of plastics from its creation from fossil fuels, to how plastics are transported, consumed, and disposed.

This event was an opportunity to share the breadth and depth of plastic pollution and engage with community members. Plastic pollution and the solutions to combating it isn’t just a global issue; it affects our own backyard. Environment North Carolina’s Wildlife Over Waste campaign is committed to educating the public on combating single-use plastics and polystyrene foam. Nothing we use for a few minutes should be allowed to pollute our oceans and rivers and threaten wildlife for centuries. The issue of single-use plastic pollution is a major focus for North Carolina given the state’s unique biodiversity and extent of ecosystems. The goal is to spare birds, fish and other wildlife from the harm caused by needless plastic pollution by banning take-out plastic foam cups and containers.

“North Carolina will be number 7 in US population in the next 20 years,” stated Representative Zack Hawkins. “That’s a lot more people that will come, a lot more producers and polluters potentially, so if we don’t put that process in now, we’re going to reach a point of no return.” Hawkins went on to say that we have about 20 years to solve this issue, and we as North Carolinians and Americans need to make the right and responsible efforts now.

The issue is complex, but there is hope. Zoë Carpenter said in closing that due to the current “combination of economic circumstances plus the growth of the break free from plastic movement and attention from the public and lawmakers, there is an opportunity to take on this industry that hasn't really been true in the past year or last couple of years.”

“We have the right to urge our leadership to support legislation that alleviates the systemic issue of plastic pollution,” said Nunnally. “It’s time to put wildlife over waste and break free from plastic.”