In 2024 most Americans are oftentimes finding themselves having to choose between paying rent or buying food. If all the recent scientific evidence that has been released is correct, it appears that by 2060 we’ll be facing a new decision; do we want to have breathable air, or have water that isn’t going to rot us from the inside out due to plastic pollution?

It seems that Colorado Governor Polis has already picked his horse in the race; clean air.

In February this year, the Polis administration released the latest iteration of its sweeping plan to sharply curb greenhouse gas pollution in Colorado, whose ultimate goal is to reach “net zero” by 2050. The list of 49 “near-term actions” includes legislation to support “climate-friendly” strategic growth, policies to reach “100% clean electricity generation” by 2040, and regulations to reduce emissions from oil and gas operations, landfills, and coal mines.

Though I applaud his efforts, I feel that his environmental programs aren’t focused nearly enough on the one thing that will be just as detrimental to human survival on this planet as unbreathable air is: plastics.

Yes, there have been doomsday stories about the environmental impact that plastics are having on the planet we call home since plastic manufacturing began. However, over the last two years there have been a number of scientific papers released that have been able to expose just how devastating this substance is. In fact, one report that came out in February of this year contains such incredible revelations that it is being considered as explosive to the environmental community as the leaked documents from big tobacco showing a link to cancer were to the tobacco industry.

The leaked documents show that the head of a trade group called the Vinyl Institute acknowledged at a 1989 conference that “recycling cannot go on indefinitely and does not solve the solid waste problem.” In fact, at one point in the report it was noted that because the plastic manufacturers knew the recycling programs being put into place were destined to fail, they referred to the programs as “a fig leaf” to the environmentalists—an ultimate virtue signal and nothing more. The report substantiates these failures by showing that despite years of recycling campaigns, less than 10% of plastic waste gets recycled globally.

For 35 years the plastic industry has known that there would never be a way to keep the over 250 million tons of plastic discarded worldwide each year at bay. They have been completely aware for decades that the world would eventually be overcome by this forever substance and have done nothing but keep the wheels of the production machines fully engaged. And now we’re starting to see the true gravity of these failures.

Plastic has become such a massive pollutant that we are now finding alarmingly high levels of microplastics in the placentas of women.

At the end of 2023, a study from Hawai’i was released that showed just how much plastics and microplastics have invaded our lives. The study analyzed 30 placentas that were donated between 2006 and 2021 and found that in all 62 tissue samples studied, microplastic concentrations were present in every single one. What makes this even worse comes from the fact that the concentrations of microplastics that were discovered ranged from 6.5 to 685 micrograms per gram of tissue, which is much higher than levels found anywhere else in the human body.

Thankfully, none of these women experienced the dreaded “zombie water” that is now happening due to the proliferation of plastics in our waters.

Researchers from Florida Atlantic University uncovered a pathogen breeding amid the rising levels of seaweed known as sargassum. The researchers determined that the increased presence of plastics in our waters, plus blooming sargassum, provides a breeding ground for vibrio. Vibrio is a flesh-eating bacteria and, per the summary of FAU findings, “are the dominant cause of death in humans from the marine environment.” Because it will eat you from the inside out if you drink it, it’s literally zombie water.

I know there will be those who look at all the data I’ve presented and adopt the attitude of “Not my problem, we live in a land-locked state so everything is fine as long as you don’t go out to the ocean.” These people are a huge part of the problem. With Colorado alone producing over 1,000,000 tons of plastic waste annually, there’s no way that the aforementioned microplastic placentas or poisoned water won’t eventually find its way into the Colorado River.

So, you may be asking yourself “What’s the point? This scourge of plastic clearly isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.” Thankfully we have some incredibly bright minds in our own backyard that are pointing a way out of this mess with innovative techniques to repurpose the billions of tons of end-of-life plastic waste that currently fills the ocean.

In 2022 University of Colorado researchers found an emission-free way to turn end-of-life plastics into resins used commonly in the electronic, automobile, and aerospace industries. The researchers’ new method is a way to take existing plastic, a polymer, and break it down to its simplest building blocks, called monomers. Then, the scientists can arrange the monomers like Lego pieces to create a new polycyanurate network product, a form of resin that can then be used by the electronic, automobile, and aerospace industries, among others.

If Polis is serious about cleaning up the environment, which I believe he is, then there is no reason he shouldn’t be finding a way to allocate millions of dollars to researching this method of recycling created by the University of Colorado. Because frankly, if we don’t do something and do something quickly when it comes to plastic waste, then our species may literally have to decide one day on how they want to perish—either from toxic air/suffocation or from complete dehydration.

Do you want to have to make that choice?