Trash Talk: Plastic at Sea Is Toxic and Terrible for You and Me

By Marilynn Preston

October 3, 2017 5 min read

I was out on a boat the other day in the Aegean, on my way to a small Greek island for lunch. Be happy. Your generous spirit is proof that all your healthy lifestyle training is paying off.

The sun was shining. The seas were calm. And suddenly, we saw dolphins, mesmerizing creatures that stopped their travels to play with us. We cut the engine and went silent, hoping for more contact.

"Stand like this," our friend, the captain, suggested, spreading his arms wide. "Open your hearts to them."

I don't know if it sparked joy with the dolphins, but it felt really good to me. There were probably 10 of them, leaping, winking, an idyllic scene in a day dedicated to researching personal well-being. As soon as a few of us slipped into the water — just to say hello — the dolphins moved on. Oh, well. Nothing can ruin this day...

And then a moment of shock. I spotted a bunch of plastic bags floating in the water around us. Oh, no! Proof positive of the horror story I've been reading about — islands of plastic the size of Texas! — a health disaster that is invading and destroying our oceans, our sea animals and plants, our whole planet.

And that includes you, dear reader. On a global scale, it's threatening all marine life, and on a personal scale, toxic nanoparticles and chemicals are being absorbed into humans and, slowly but surely, invading our innards, damaging our health.

What can your most personal trainer do? Write about it. Spread the word. Let readers know that there "are many small ways you can have a big impact," according to Sarah Engler, the editorial director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, a major force for good when it comes to reducing plastic pollution. Below are some of her best ideas. For more, visit

1. Wean yourself off disposable plastics. About 80 percent of marine litter originates on land, Engler reports. The more we just say no to plastic, the less gets swept or drained into our waterways. Ninety percent of the plastic items in our daily lives are used once and tossed away: plastic bags, plastic wrap, plastic cups and cutlery. The workaround is simple: store food in glass, not plastic. Bring your own bags to stores, your own cups to coffee shops. One of my latest adjustments was weaning myself off plastic wrap and using beeswax cloth covers instead. (I now happily give them as hostess gifts.)

2. Stop buying bottled water. This is a no-brainer. The NRDC estimates that each year, close to 20 billion plastic bottles are tossed into the trash ... and out to sea. Reusable bottles are the way to go. Filter your tap water if necessary (and with our deteriorating infrastructure, it probably is).

3. Cook more. Not only is it healthier, Engler writes, but also it doesn't involve take-out containers or doggy bags. "For some serious extra credit, bring your own food storage containers to restaurants for leftovers." (NRDC is notoriously hard-core.)

4. Purchase items secondhand. Everything new comes in plastic packaging. Used stuff — from garage sales, from second-hand stores — doesn't. Save the planet; save some dough.

5. Recycle. Even on this tiny Greek island, plastics are recycled. But the world at large? "Less than 14 percent of plastic packaging is recycled," Engler reports.

6. Support a bag tax or ban. Almost 150 cities, including San Francisco and Chicago, have passed laws that successfully reduce the use of plastic stuff. It's a drop in the ocean, but it's a positive step forward. If you support legislators who support pushing back on plastic pollution, you are making a difference.

7. Bring your own garment bag to the dry cleaners. It may be hard for you to take on board the connection between turning down plastic bags at the dry cleaners and saving the seas, but it's there. We're all connected.

"Every bit of plastic ever made still exists," the EPA reports, and that's not just bad news for every sea bird, every turtle, and all of us in the food chain: It's extremely disturbing to the dolphins.

Don't ask me how I know.


"We're doomed to live with yesterday's plastic pollution, and we are exacerbating the situation with each day of unchanged behavior." — Rolf Halden

Marilynn Preston is the author of Energy Express, America's longest-running healthy lifestyle column. Her new book "All Is Well: The Art {and Science} of Personal Well-Being" is available now on Amazon and elsewhere. Visit Creators Publishing at to learn more. For more on personal well-being, visit

Like it? Share it!

  • 0

Energy Express
About Marilynn Preston
Read More | RSS | Subscribe