PennEnvironment hosts waterways clean-up to demonstrate support for banning single-use foam

For Immediate Release

For more information contact: Jessica Bellwoar, PennEnvironment, (610) 308-0868

Philadelphia, PA -- Today, PennEnvironment hosted a waterway clean-up event with members of the Philadelphia and Delaware County communities to demonstrate strong support for reducing the plastic pollution that is harming our wildlife and health. Specifically, the group called on the PA Legislatures to pass a statewide ban on single-use polystyrene.

Polystyrene -- what many people refer to as ‘Styrofoam’ -- is one of the worst forms of plastic pollution and is often used in cups and take-out food containers. Every day Americans use and throw away more than 70 million plastic cups. This comes to 8 billion Styrofoam cups - excluding take-out containers and silverware - that end up polluting American waterways and coastlines annually.  

The massive accumulation of plastic is exemplified by the Philadelphia Water Department’s removal of more than 12 tonnes of trash from the Schuylkill and Delaware rivers in 2017 alone.

“We simply can’t continue to produce and throw away plastic at this rate,” said Jessica Bellwoar, Conservation Associate with PennEnvironment. “Nothing we use for five minutes should live in the Delaware River forever. It’s time to put our wildlife over waste and we urge our elected officials to take action and lead the way on this issue.”

Once polystyrene enters our waterways, it is easily ingested by aquatic wildlife. Scientists have found plastic fragments in hundreds of species, including 86 percent of all sea turtle species and nearly half of all seabird and marine mammal species.  

“A Styrofoam container might hold our take-out food for only a matter of minutes, but it can take hundreds or even a million years for it to decompose naturally and in the meantime it clogs our local waterways and poses a threat to birds and marine life,” said Rep. Tim Briggs, D-Montgomery. “I’ve introduced legislation that would reduce the amount of Styrofoam polluting our environment, and I’ll continue to support ways we can reduce our impact on the world around us.” There are already 25 cosponsors signed onto the ban polystyrene house bill.

“Across the country, polystyrene foam bans have passed in more than 200 cities and communities, and some companies have committed to phasing polystyrene out,” said Senator McGarrigle. “If they can do it, everyone can do it. I urge other elected officials to sign onto this legislation. We can’t outwait polystyrene. We have to act now.”

Plastics also pose risks to human health, attracting harmful chemicals including carcinogens, neurotoxins, and endocrine disruptors. Humans can ingest microplastics by eating contaminated seafood and by coming into contact with everyday plastic packaging. Much of the plastic waste in Philadelphia ends up on New Jersey and Delaware coast lines, where we fish commercially and consume seafood and fish contaminated with these microplastics.

John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge Manager, Lamar Gore, referenced a statistic from earthday.org that puts our plastic dilemma in perspective. “Approximately 25 million tonnes of plastic packaging produced annually flows into our oceans, which is the equivalent of pouring one garbage truck of plastic into the ocean every minute. How do we approach this? Individually or as organizations, we can make changes from single-use plastics to reusable products. At the refuge, we are taking another step, as our Watershed Fellow, Kristofer Booker, with the Alliance for Watershed Education launches our Caretakers of the Creek Program today. It starts from the community."

"Every year for over 30 years, Darby Creek Valley Association (DCVA) members and friends remove bags upon bags of plastic from the Darby Creek. According to a report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, there will be more plastic than fish in our ocean by 2050. Friends of Heinz Refuge and DCVA encourage everyone to take the plastic challenge and eliminate its use at home and support our legislators ' efforts to ban the most harmful of products." said Jaclyn Rhoades, President of Friends of Heinz Refuge and Darby Creek Valley Association.

“Pennsylvanian constituencies are quite puzzled on why we haven’t taken stronger action to address plastic pollution. We want to see protections for our environment so future generations can grow up to enjoy our beautiful forests, lakes and streams." said PennEnvironment’s Field Manager Mia Vega.

PennEnvironment has been knocking on doors in towns across the state to generate support for a statewide ban on polystyrene.

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PennEnvironment is a statewide, citizen-based grassroots environmental advocacy group, dedicated to protecting our air, water and open spaces. We investigate problems, craft solutions, educate the public and decision-makers, and help the public make their voices heard in local, state and national debates over the quality of our environment and our lives. For more information, visit www.PennEnvironment.org.