New Mexicans tackle plastic pollution - Albuquerque Journal

New Mexicans tackle plastic pollution

A plastic bag is stuck in a bush in Eldorado outside Santa Fe. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

As the world celebrates Earth Week, New Mexico residents are raising awareness about plastic waste clogging waterways and piling up at recycling centers.

Plastics comprise about 12% of the nation’s trash, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Sarah Pierpont, director of the New Mexico Recycling Coalition, said “we can’t recycle our way out” of the global plastic waste problem.

“Individual choices really do make a difference, so we shouldn’t all be using disposable cutlery and plates,” Pierpont said. “But it can be frustrating when the plastic industry and the oil and gas industry have thrown the responsibility solely onto individuals.”

The Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act could require more of manufacturers.

Last month, the bill was reintroduced in the U.S. House by California Rep. Alan Lowenthal. Fellow Democratic Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández of New Mexico is a co-sponsor.

Plastic producers would need to fund recycling programs under the bill, which would ban some non-recyclable plastics.

At least five New Mexico cities have banned single-use plastic bags or Styrofoam containers, but the COVID-19 pandemic has prevented many ordinances from being enforced.

Pierpont’s organization has received a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant to create reuse centers and provide backyard composting training for rural communities.

“A lot of American waste is food scraps and yard debris, and those are essential ingredients for composting,” she said. “Compost helps retain water in our soils, and keeps material out of expensive landfills that also create harmful methane.”

College campuses can tackle the plastic problem by eliminating single-use plastic products, said Alexa Moore, a University of New Mexico senior and manager of a zero-waste campaign for New Mexico’s Student Public Interest Research Group.

“Something like a Styrofoam coffee cup that we use for 10 minutes can pollute our environment for hundreds of years,” Moore said. “These plastics don’t break down. They don’t biodegrade. They just form smaller microplastics that harm our environment.”

George Richardson, co-producer of a new documentary, “New Mexicans Taking Action on Plastic Waste,” said a “tapestry of individuals and activists” are addressing pollution.

“Not unlike a lot of things with the climate crisis, plastics are so ubiquitous now in our lives,” he said. “You just see it everywhere.”

Theresa Davis is a Report for America corps member covering water and the environment for the Albuquerque Journal.

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