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Plastic in Missoula

Thousands of plastic bags line the fence bordering Interstate 90 and the Republic Services' landfill in March 2019. 

Like many Montanans, I use the river as a salve — a cure-all balm for anything that ails me. It’s a place where I can recharge after work, reconnect with friends, or find quiet solitude. Its where I go with my family to fish and to paddle, to camp and to explore.

And, on Earth Day, I went to the river for an entirely new reason: to test it for microplastics.

Microplastics are the tiny little particles left when plastic bags, take-out containers, bottles, and other items break apart in our environment. These bits of plastic been found in every corner of the globe, including remote regions of the Pyrenees Mountains and in the deepest part of the ocean.

Is there plastic in Montana’s waterways too?

This summer, I’m working with an Environment Montana crew to test 50 river access sites across Montana for these plastics. We’re planning to crisscross the state, testing crowded public beaches and remote waterways.

I’m worried about what we might find.

Since 1970, the year of the first Earth Day, global plastic production has increased more than 10-fold. Worse, plastic waste is expected to more than triple by 2050. Because plastic doesn’t biodegrade for hundreds of years, its impact on our rivers and wildlife will outlive us all.

But Earth Day reminds us that we can change our fate.

After all, our air and water are cleaner than they were in 1970. Numerous forests, mountains, rivers and lakes have been protected. Endangered plants and animals have been saved from extinction.

Each victory has been won by people who put their voices, votes and dollars behind their values, cheered on politicians and corporations when they did the right thing, and held them accountable when they didn’t.

Today, public opinion and grassroots action is shifting against plastic pollution. Nearly a quarter of Americans live in a city or state where some single-use plastics are banned or limited. And all across Montana, households and communities are making important changes to reduce their plastic consumption.

So, get out on enjoy our beautiful waterways. Think about how far we’ve already come and about how far we can go. Imagine your children and their children inheriting a healthier natural world, one in which most plastic pollution is a thing of the past. Use the power of your voice, your vote and your dollars to make that future a reality.

And if you see me on the river, stop by to say hello. 

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Skye Borden is the state director for Environment Montana.

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