By Steve Jesseph, WRAP President and CEO
From 1948 to 1975, the political satirist and cartoonist Walt Kelly penned the Pogo cartoon series which appeared in hundreds of US newspapers. Pogo was a small alligator who lived in the swamps of the Southern US with his friend Porkypine. For the first Earth Day in 1970, Kelly created the now famous cartoon strip where Pogo and Porkypine were surveying the trash-filled and polluted swamp where they lived. Sitting on a log, Pogo lamented to Porkypine, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Kelly viewed the destruction of the environment as a serious problem and laid the blame squarely at our feet – as we were the ones who created the mess in the first place.
Forty-one years have passed since that first Earth Day. How much have we accomplished to address global pollution and environmental degradation? In my view, very little. A few communities have meaningful recycling programs but we continue to pour waste, excess packaging and more into our rivers, oceans and landfills at a startling and increasing rate. For just one product, we make and use over 200,000,000,000 (that is 200 BILLION) half-liter plastic water bottles per year – enough to stretch from Earth to the moon and back 42 times if laid end-to-end. Over 70% of those once-used bottles go to into landfills. As an alternative, how many communities invest in protecting their fresh water supplies so citizens can drink clean, safe water from the taps in their homes and businesses? New York City does. But how many other towns and communities do? Very few. Instead, we rely upon an industry that twenty years ago barely existed to deliver drinking water in plastic bottles that has a massive carbon footprint and creates incredible waste and pollution.
Is the Earth a better place today than in 1970? Not if we measure atmospheric carbon dioxide. According to the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, we had about 325 parts per million (ppm) of CO2 in our atmosphere in 1970. Today, we have almost 390 ppm (a 20% increase in 40 years!) and the number continues to grow. Many scientists warn that atmospheric CO2 of 350 ppm or more leads to global warming. We can’t argue that ocean levels are slowly rising as our glaciers, mountain-top snow deposits and polar ice caps continue to melt because the overall temperature of our atmosphere is rising. We can debate whether or not the 350 number is the exact right number. Nor is it difficult to understand that coral and fish are dying as the acid levels in our oceans continues to rise due to excess CO2 in the atmosphere. Where does it come from? Many argue that it largely comes from the burning of coal, and from burning gasoline and diesel in our cars and trucks, and burning natural gas – all fossil fuels.
These are just a few of the facts. The question is: what will we do about these issues? Wait for our political leaders to identify and implement solutions? Or, take responsibility for what we can do as individuals acting alone and collectively. If “we are the enemy”, then I must conclude that “we” are also our best friend and ally. No magical genie is going to come along to clean up our atmosphere for us. No one is going to begin forcing us to make better purchasing and lifestyle choices. WE are the ones who must change our behavior – now.
What can we do?
- REDUCE how much we buy to a level of what we NEED.
- Instead of using something once and throwing it away, REUSE all that we can time and time again.
- RECYCLE everything we can that is recyclable – and make purchasing decisions with recycling in mind.
- REFUSE to purchase products that are bad for the environment, have excess packaging, or may be simply wasteful. REFUSE to contribute to the problem.
- Finally, SPEAK UP. If you see products you don’t like in stores, tell the store manager and write to the company that makes them. Believe me, store managers and manufacturers DO pay attention to their customers.
At WRAP, we are committed to the environment. That’s why we added Principle 10 when we created the WRAP Program. In our view, being a socially responsible corporate citizen is treating our employees with dignity and respect, and within the laws of the countries in which we do business. It also means making the smallest possible footprint on the planet – if any.
Please join us in celebrating Earth Day 2011 by doing your part to helping clean up and preserve our environment for our own enjoyment, and for the benefit of future generations to come.
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