HHI Ethics Seminar
November 6, 2019
USCB Hospitality Center
Biologist/Naturalist Cathy J. Sakas, Tybee Island resident who is co-founder of Ocean Exchange, an organization whose objective is to reduce waste and the use of natural resources in the interest of sustainability with regard to the world's oceans, made the presentation.
Cathy brought plastics to the minds of those in the audience by brieﬂy recounting her own experiences that made her aware of plastic as a problem. She recalled grief over seeing a seal with a plastic six-pack ring around its neck; being shocked by the amount of plastic tubing used in oxygen support for her elderly mother-in-law; finding huge caches of plastic in 70 feet of water 20 miles oﬀshore in the Gulf of Mexico; advocating unsuccessfully for a ban on single-use plastic bags in her hometown.
Then she reminded the audience of the benefits of plastic to today's society and commerce: its durability, it's light weight. Modern kitchens are filled with plastics. Plastic instead of metal shipping containers for ships and trucks oﬀer serious convenience for their users. The medical industry depends on plastic for many life-saving procedures. Football helmets, football players' knee pads and roller blades are made of plastic. Paper cash receipts are often coated in plastic. Tiny plastic beads are in nail polish and toothpaste.
Sailing across the Paciﬁc Ocean for 28 days, she saw plastic washed up on islands. Scientists estimate the number of pieces of plastic in the planet's oceans at five trillion, she said.
The public used to believe plastic is inert. It is not, she said. Leachates from plastic include endocrine disruptors, which imitate estrogen and reduce male fertility. An example of the impact of plastic leachate is the significant decline in the population of the Florida panther. In addition, humans have many more fertility issues than in the past. Potential solutions include turning plastic waste into fuel, working harder to keep plastic waste on land and not in the water; replacement of lightweight plastics with bio-degradable material made of plant cell-wall cellulose; bioplastics created out of shrimp shells. An Australian 15-year-old is credited with the new shrimp-cell product. The silk in some spider webs may oﬀer potential for replacing plastics in some uses.
Questions and comments from the audience triggered other related topics.
Opposition to banning single-use plastic bags on Tybee Island was fierce from businesses; they emphasized that the tourism economy depends on convenience to the tourists.
The 14,000 hospitals in the United States are required to dispose of plastics used for medical purposes in a way that does not transfer medical contamination. The plastic still exists for a long time, however.
Someone asked the ethical question of the day: Was it unethical to begin the use of plastics without noting the long-term impact?
Cathy responded by saying Ocean Exchange is trying to address the problem by providing research money to scientists from across the world who are looking for ways to replace plastic with more environmentally friendly alternatives.
Someone asked whether recycling is ever proﬁtable. Cathy answered that innovative scientists are working on that problem. Power can be generated from incineration, she said, but that process is not being used at an effective scale at this time.
Our sincere thanks to Cathy Sakas for her most enlightening and informative presentation. Thanks also to Bill Byrne for his excellent moderating and to Fran Bollin for her consistently excellent note taking and summary of our meeting. Lastly ongoing thanks to Marion Conlin for recruiting Cathy.