This year, like most others in the past decade or so, I made my New Year’s resolutions on a beach in Florida. It was my first time doing so, however, on Singer Island, where I rang in 2018 with my husband, our two daughters, and my husband’s parents. With more Bingo than Beyoncé, Singer Island had a completely different vibe from sexy South Beach, Miami, where we normally go (usually without the kids). But, like South Beach, it had beautiful white sand beaches and the same boundless, blue-green ocean in which I’d found New Year’s inspiration so many times before.
On the last morning of our vacation I broke away from my family for a walk along the ocean. Unseasonably cold weather had driven most people inside, leaving the beach to the seabirds, a few hardy snowbirds and me. As I combed the seashell-littered shoreline in search of treasures for my daughters, fleets of pelicans flew low over the waves like miniature fighter planes and flocks of orange-beaked terns hunkered down in the sand. I was glad to share a bit of solitude with them, invigorated by the fresh salt air and brilliant sunshine.
But shells, unfortunately, were not the only thing I found on my walk. There was plastic, an alarming amount of plastic. Entangled in giant heaps of seaweed and scattered in the sand, I saw water bottles, bags, straws, packaging materials, broken toys, flip flops, the odd colander, and an astonishing amount of bottle caps in every color of the rainbow. This was limited to a few untended sections of the beach, but only because most of the hotels and condos lining the dunes had cleared their beachfronts to keep things pretty. It was sickening to imagine how much more plastic would be there if they hadn’t whisked it away. Worse still, a great deal of this garbage had rolled in with the surf.
While thoughts about what I wanted to accomplish and the person I hoped to be in 2018 had been swirling around in my head all week, I had not yet formulated anything concrete enough to commit to the pristine pages of my new journal amid the commotion of our family vacation. But now, as I surveyed this shameful desecration of nature, I realized that my first new year’s resolution for 2018 had found me: 2018 would be the year I would commit to minimizing my own, as well as my family’s, contribution to this plastic mess. It wasn’t the first time I’d seen plastic garbage on the beach or heard about the problem of plastics in our oceans, but for whatever reason, it was the first time I’d felt compelled to do something about it.
When we returned home to San Francisco last Friday, I began researching the issues posed by plastics in the environment, and learned about the non-profit organization, Plastic Oceans. After watching their moving 2016 documentary, A Plastic Ocean (available on Netflix) I felt even more inspired to act. Surfrider, through it’s Rise Above Plastics Program, also offers a lot of helpful information and ways to make a difference, including beach cleanups through local Surfrider chapters across the United States.
Here is what I plan to do to fulfill my New Year’s resolution:
- I will choose to reuse when it comes to shopping bags and bottled water
- I will stop using grocery store plastic bags (including for produce) as much as possible (the average life of such plastic bags is said to be 20 minutes — crazy!)
- I will refuse single-serving packaging, excess packaging, straws and other single use plastics as much as possible.
- I will reduce everyday plastics such as sandwich bags and juice cartons by replacing them with a reusable lunch bag/box that includes a thermos.
- I will seek out alternatives to the plastic items that I’ve been relying on.
- I will recycle plastic and choose #1 (PETE) or #2 (HDPE) plastics — which are the most commonly recycled plastics — as much as possible.
- I will volunteer at beach cleanups.
- I will support plastic bag bans, polystyrene foam bans and bottle recycling bills.
- I will spread the word by talking to family and friends about why it is important to reduce our use of plastics.