Environmental Justice & Sustainability

Undoing Plastic Nooses

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Lovelace from “Happy Feet” with a plastic ring holder around his neck [Warner Bros. Pictures’]
If you’ve grown up in an American household, the plastic rings that hold cans of beer or soda together are most likely very familiar. If you’ve ever pulled a can out of one of those six-packs, you probably already know how irritatingly strong that plastic is. As a child, I often found those holders lying on the kitchen counter or sitting atop the trash can and, more than once, I tried to tear the rings apart with my bare hands. Of course, I was never able to. Instead, I’d find again and again that those rings, which can stretch several times their size, were more likely to create cuts in my reddened hands than get torn. Defeated, I would toss the plastic rings back into the trash and wonder why they were made to be so durable when they would be disposed after one use.

Now, as an adult, I have learned that those seemingly harmless plastic rings have a detrimental effect on the environment but still have no clear answer as to why they are still used or how to properly dispose of them. According to the article “The Deadly Truth About Trash” by The Humane Society of the United States, a large portion of the 250 million tons of trashdiscarded by Americans every year ends up in the wild and in the oceans (Johnson). It was reported in the same article that the Ocean Conservancy’s 2008 International Coastal cleanup gathered 3.7 million pounds of trash from U.S. shorelines in just one day. Off the shores of California exists the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”, a concentration of plastic and nonbiodegradable trash which is essentially a poisoned all-you-can-eat buffet for marine life (Johnson).

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DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP/Getty Images

Trash items, such as plastic ring holders, cannot be digested but are often eaten by fish and birds that do not know better. Even the wildlife that does not eat the plastic garbage floating in their habitats are affected by its presence since they may eat fish that have ingested plastic or may become snared in things such as the holders – which are practically invisible underwater and, therefore, difficult to avoid. Large companies such as Coca-Cola claim that their ring holders break down into smaller pieces when exposed to sunlight and consequently will not harm wildlife. However, the breaking down of the plastic does not eliminate the damage done if an animal or fish ate it, it only reduces the harm. Similarly, snipping apart the plastic holders before recycling them does not eliminate the harm done if they are ingested. More upsettingly, statistics show that of the 44 million pounds of waste that New Yorkers produce each day, only one third is recycled. So even if you snip those pesky plastic holders, chances are that they are still ending up in the ocean or in some landfill.

So what do we do with those plastic ring holders? One possibility is to contact an organization that specifically recycles plastic rings, such as The Ring Leader Recycling Program or Earth911. I intend on gathering holders from now and contacting a local program instead of putting them in the recycling bin. However, a smarter long-term approach would be to petition to replace all plastic holders with edible holders, which were invented by a South Floridian brewery and are completely safe and even beneficial to wildlife. Although it is much easier to just cut the holders instead of going the extra step and properly disposing them, we have a responsibility to the inhabitants of the environments we are polluting and should actively correct our collective mistakes.

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6 thoughts on “Undoing Plastic Nooses

  1. This is fascinating. I love your little anecdote at the beginning–I think we’ve all been there, and it emphasizes the point you make of how those pesky cuts in your finger transcend into other issues. The images you use are striking as well. I saw the “Happy Feet” character and was instantly hooked (pun not intended). We’re often forgetful of how horrifying garbage is. At first glance that sentence might not sound sincere, but when we are reminded that this is why our planet is coming undone, then it becomes overwhelming… and maybe we need some of that. As a culture we’ve become numb to the fact that this is an issue, or if we know of it we don’t do enough. This will be in the front of my mind the next time I drink a can of soda, so…thanks? haha but seriously, well done.

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  2. Gurjeet, I really learned from your post! Especially this point: “So even if you snip those pesky plastic holders, chances are that they are still ending up in the ocean or in some landfill.” Snipping the plastic holders isn’t enough. Thank you for sharing your post and research on this issue!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I like how you picked this as your topic because whenever I see one of those plastic rings, I am always cutting them apart because I don’t want a poor animal getting stuck in there. I think more people from class will read it because of the Happy Feet picture and the fact that most people are animal lovers themselves.

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  4. This was such a great post! And like the other comments, the Happy Feet image was brilliant to use for this topic. I’m happy too that you mentioned the edible holders because I read about that not too long ago, and I believe that is the next logical step in fixing the damage we’ve caused. If these companies decide to not invest in this then they clearly have no kind of couth. Because although it may be funny that you chose that photo from Happy Feet, it is terribly sad. I’m sure most people have seen this, but a photo was taken of a turtle and because it got caught in one of those holders, its body grew with an indent from where the holder was. But, I have hope that we can change and fix the destructive path we have walked down. If everyone tries their best everyday to curb their current behavior, the world will be better for the next generation. Great topic choice!

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  5. This is a great post. First off, I had no idea that there are corporations that make editable plastic rings holders. That’s a really great solution to a pretty disastrous problem. I think that should be a requirement for all corporations that use plastic rings. Also I think your goal to go around and specifically collect and recycle those pieces of plastic is a great idea. Many people don’t have any knowledge or may not care how harmful those plastic rings can be and it’s great that your intervening and recycling. I’ll definitely be looking out for those plastic rings myself.

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