Dream Green Volusia educated Ponce Inlet residents on how to get closer to the green dream Nov. 19 during a presentation in the Town Council Chambers.
The green team spoke about the elimination of single-use plastics, and efforts local businesses and restaurants are making to reduce plastic waste.
“The reason why I formed this organization is because the size and scope of the problem is massive,” said Suzanne Scheiber, founder of Dream Green. “It’s way larger than most people realize.”
She said if you think about the number of single-use plastics available in grocery stores, it is overwhelming. More are being manufactured, and the pace isn’t slowing.
The environmental group consists of local, environmental and civic partners, including the Volusia-Flagler Sierra Club, The Southeast Volusia Audubon, The Litter Gitter (a boat that removes trash from waterways), Dr. Ellen Asher, a Flagler Beach school teacher, Beaches Go Green (Jacksonville), the Marine Discovery Center in New Smyrna Beach, and Edgewater Environmental.
Since March2019, the group and its partners have worked in the community to reduce single-use plastics, such as Styrofoam, bags and straws, in addition to providing education and support for residents, schools and area businesses.
“We chose to work on Styrofoam, straws and plastic bags,” Ms. Scheiber said. “That doesn’t mean there are not a lot of other problems, there are. But we can only achieve so much, and as I said, it’s a massive problem.”
Single-use plastics are bad for the environment because they are used once and tossed, she explained. And they take hundreds of years to break down. They can be found in waterways, the roadside, and in the ocean and on beaches.
“They are polluting the environment across the board,” Ms. Scheiber said.
Recycling isn’t always an option, although she isn’t opposed to it. But many items cannot be recycled, like straws, which will blow off recycling trucks because they are lightweight. And that tends to be the problem with most single-use plastics, she said.
The U.S. is No. 20 in the world for waste management with plastics. “We are No. 3 in the world for plastic production,” Ms. Scheiber cited, adding the country produces 37 million plastics a year, and is starting to produce more than it can manage.
“We are now in a waste management evolution,” she said, “because we now are in a position where we have far more plastic items than we did at the time we started recycling, and certain items can’t even be recycled. We are at a point where we have items like these and we need more technology to come along faster to help us.”
People are trying to decide what to use and what to recycle. Every city has its own different recycling contract. Some cities, for instance, don’t recycle glass. Recycling is not going to be the solution for single-use plastics, she said.
Bottled water is one the most controversial items. During emergencies, bottled water is delivered because it is needed. Once this large amount of bottled water is used in situations like a hurricane or a contaminated water supply, there is a huge number of empty bottles that must be dealt with. It was a big problem for cities like Flint, Mich., Ms. Scheiber said.
Single use plastics don’t break down, she explained, they break up into tiny pieces called micro plastics.
“These are ultimately the king of the problem,” she added.
Microplastics are defined as 5 millimeters or less in size when the break down and end up in local waterways – in water around the world. There is no simple solution to cleaning them up.
“If they’re in our waterways and the ocean they are in our food chain,” Ms. Scheiber said. “Living in a coastal community, I would like to see it all cleaned up.”
She said many people want to blame other countries. China is now No. 1 in plastic production and doesn’t have waste management, so they are a big problem, she said. “But you have to see what you can do with yourselves and your own country.”
Dr. Debra Woodall, assistant chair of the Institute of Marine and Environmental Studies at Daytona State College, traveled with 5 Gyres, an organization that trolls the ocean doing research on pollution from plastics. Five Gyres, she described, is flow of the ocean and sea pollution ends up in one of five areas of the ocean world. Certain areas have more pollution than others. On its first trip to Indonesia, 5 Gyres took a group of people who live near the coastline, frequently use the ocean and really appreciate it. Dr. Woodall was shocked to see the vast amount of trash in the seas.
Rebecca Chaffe heads Go Green’s Restaurant Recognition program, another way to get community businesses to do their share in reducing plastic pollution. The group surveyed and rated 56 businesses and restaurants in Volusia County. Of them, she said 13 restaurants have been designated gold rated and 17 silver rated. Three businesses are now gold rated.