July is National Lakes Appreciation Month
Did you know that almost 11% of Polk County is covered in water? That’s right! Water covers approximately 10.6%, or 213 square miles, of Polk County’s total land mass (2,011 square miles). These lakes, rivers, and storm water ponds are important to our economy, wildlife, culture, and so much more. This July, celebrate Lakes Appreciation Month by pledging to #ChooseToRefuse single-use plastic and live a #PlasticFreeJuly.
What does plastic have to do with Lakes Appreciation?
Most of the conversation about microplastics, plastic pollution, and the problems with single-use plastics are centered around the marine environment and worldwide ocean pollution. Unfortunately, the issue is not limited to the ocean environment. Anywhere where trash and litter accumulate, we have plastic pollution.
In Polk, most of our stormwater pipes and road drains lead to our lakes. These drains and pipes collect the litter which accumulates in the lake’s watershed. A watershed is the land area which drains to a certain point (lake, river, ocean, etc) either by natural ways, such as down hills, or by man-made ways like stormwater pipes. These watersheds include areas where litter is common, like parking lots, roadways and roadsides, parks, schools, and restaurants.
One of the many reasons that plastic pollution is concerning is that plastic does not biodegrade. Over time, plastic items will break apart into smaller and smaller pieces of plastic, often reaching the size of microplastics (less than 5 mm). Unfortunately, plastic pollution is increasing at an alarming rate.
Thanks to the Florida Microplastic Awareness Project, we know that microplastic pollution is not limited to our coastal areas. Water samples taken in freshwater systems also show evidence of microplastic pollution. Data shows an average of 14 pieces of plastic per liter of water sampled in Polk County, FL (n=11). Sampling efforts here are still new, but with time the data will increase. There isn’t enough data to show which areas are more or less likely to have microplastic pollution in Polk County.
Will #PlasticFreeJuly help reduce microplastic pollution?
Lakes Appreciation Month is all about valuing our lakes, reducing our negative impacts on them, and protecting and enhancing them by being good stewards. Microplastic pollution is a complicated topic without solid, research-based solutions. Removing existing plastic pollution in Florida’s waterways is not a viable option at this time. The easiest way for the public, for YOU, to make a difference is to reduce your use of single-use plastics and let your friends and family know WHY you are doing it. Sharing the message of single-use plastic and the impact they have on Florida’s waterways is a great way to celebrate Lake’s Appreciation Month.
#PlasticFreeJuly is pledge that you can make to reduce your use of single use plastics, reduce common “takeout plastics” (like bags, bottles, straws, utensils, and cups), or to fully avoid plastic for the month of July. #PlasticFreeJuly is a challenge, not a competition. Consider the many ways you use plastic every day, and see which uses you can reduce.
You can make this pledge to yourself, to your friends, or if you would like email reminders and tips you can pledge online at http://www.plasticfreejuly.org/. You can also get some ideas from the Florida Microplastic Awareness Project’s pledge.
Remember, recycling can help but it is not the solution. Most plastics are not 100% recyclable and many are not recyclable at all. If we think back to our education about recycling, the Three R’s were Reduce and Reuse, then Recycle! We should Reduce our use of single-use plastics and instead use durable goods which we can Reuse.
Where can I learn more?
You can learn more about Polk County’s waterways and lakes with the following organizations or websites:
- Lakes Education/Action Drive
- Keep Polk County Beautiful
- Polk County Water Atlas
- UF/IFAS Extension Polk County’s Natural Resources Program
You can learn more about Microplastics and how YOU can reduce your microplastic impact, here: The Florida Microplastic Awareness Project
This quirky video, from Australia, shows some of the easy ways you can reduce your use of single-use plastics.