Carmel Magazine

Carmel Magazine SP 15

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Page 69 of 195

Making an Impact, One Potato Chip Bag at a Time S cientists estimate our seas contain more than five trillion pieces of floating plastic, with a combined weight of 269,000 metric tons. By all accounts it's an environmental disaster. Society uses non-renewable resources to create harmful plastics—putting our planet and the health of humans and nature in peril. With no easy solutions at hand, one local woman vowed to live one year without plastic. No bottles, no straws, no potato chip bags. "Humans survived for many millennia without plastics. It's only recently that plastic has become so ubiquitous," says Sarah Mae Nelson, a Climate Change Interpretive Specialist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The idea germinated in 2006 when the Aquarium started to care for an albatross, a species in crisis due to accidental plastic consumption. "I knew we wanted to send a message about marine debris," Nelson explains, "so I focused on what I could do to minimize my own consumption." In February, the White House honored Nelson and seven other Americans as Champions of Change for Climate Education and Literacy. Nelson downplays the honor. "I made a choice we all can make," she says. "Should I make something I want or use a resource I don't want to use?" Nelson, 35, continues her "plasticarian" journey she began in 2011. Some solutions are easy, such as reusable water bottles and grocery bags. But what about her beloved potato chips? Or her toothbrush? "I make my own potato chips," she says. "My toothbrush is made from bamboo. I use bamboo silverware. I buy food in bulk. But it's not easy." It annoys Nelson when she buys an organic apple only to find each one labeled with a plastic sticker. An asthma sufferer, she can't say no to her plastic rescue inhaler. "And I live in a modern world, so I own an iPhone." When she feels guilty she pays "plastic penance," and cleans local beaches. "Friends think I'm weird, but I'm glad they do," Nelson says, "because I know they've changed because of my weirdness." —Larry Harland SHORTCUTS NEIGHBORS Sarah Mae Nelson, a climate change researcher at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, pledged to live without plastics in 2011 after learning about the 269,000 tons of trash in the oceans. Recently, she was honored at the White House for her efforts. 68 C A R M E L M A G A Z I N E • S P R I N G / S U M M E R 2 0 1 5 Photo: Kelli Uldall

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