South Mississippi Strong: Plastic Free Gulf Coast takes action toward a sustainable future

South Mississippi Strong: Plastic Free Gulf Coast takes action toward a sustainable future

BAY ST. LOUIS, Miss. (WLOX) - Plastic Free Gulf Coast is on a mission to replace single-use plastics like straws and lids with more earth-friendly options.

Vegetable packing peanuts, toothbrushes carved from bamboo,and cups made from corn are just some of the ways the group is helping to keep South Mississippi sustainable.

“This is a packing peanut, right?" explained Elizabeth Englebretson. "As soon as it hits the water, it starts breaking down.”

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It’s the little things that make up a much bigger vision for a plastic-free future.

“I’m not trying to take anything away, I’m not trying to shame people," said Englebretson. "This is about celebrating the small wins, the fact that someone that’s never thought about plastics before is now thinking about it.”

Plastic Free Gulf Coast and the Mockingbird Cafe are skipping the plastic.

“The customers were a little confused at first but very excited,” said Whitney LaFrance, the manager at Mockingbird Cafe.

If you want a plastic straw or lid, you have to ask for it. The switch is stirring up conversations about sustainability.

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“Five, ten years ago, no one really gave a thought about plastic and its impact on the environment," said Eric Deroche, a customer at Mockingbird Cafe.

Plastic Free Gulf Coast is closely studying the Mockingbird Cafe with help from the NOAA Debris Prevention Grant.

“We didn’t want to go plastic free for a month and not be able to maintain it and switch back," said LaFrance. "This really helped us find the course on how to get plastic free and stay plastic free.”

Englebretson says the research helps her consult other restaurants on ways to reduce the plastic waste that plagues oceans around the world.

“Plastic never goes away. It just breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces," she said.

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Marine wildlife and birds often mistake microplastics and nurdles from mass production for food.

“Their bellies fill with plastic; they can’t digest it," said Englebretson. "They feel like they’re eating but they’re not getting any nutritional value so they starve.”

According to NOAA, there is evidence that illness-inducing bacteria, such as E. coli could be transported by microplastics. As the highest on the food chain, human health is at risk

Englebretson believes the burden of saving the planet shouldn’t be on the everyday person but the companies they support.

“I know we’re not as big as other corporations but I feel like everyone doing a little bit, even if imperfectly will make a bigger change," said Englebretson.

“It’s not just about saving the turtles. It’s about saving our economy, it’s about saving our Gulf Coast. So that our grandkids can go fish and eat the fish that come out of our waters.”

Plastic Free Gulf Coast will be part of the annual Mississippi Coastal Cleanup event, which is scheduled for Nov. 16. For more information about the cleanup or to sign up, visit Mississippi Coastal Cleanup’s website.

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