By Joe Thorpe

A consumer-driven economy lends itself to a world with limitless possibilities of goods and services. This same fortunate position of endless opulence, however, creates by-products that are a significant factor in global pollution.

Sustainable Practices is a Cape Cod-based environmental conservation organization. Their mission is “to facilitate a culture of sustainability as defined by reducing the human-made impact to the planet and its ecosystems.”

The non-profit, founded in 2016, regularly hosts events dedicated to raising awareness, fundraising and environmental cleanups. The second annual ‘All-Cape Beach Cleanup’, held in September 2019, covered 14 towns across Cape Cod as they cleaned up over 15 beaches.

Sustainable Practices relies heavily on volunteers for events such as the beach cleanup. The organization’s Board of Directors is comprised of local Cape residents, and Executive Director Madhavi Venkatesan resides in Brewster.

Venkatesan earned a Ph.D., a Master’s degree and a Bachelor’s degree in Economics from Vanderbilt University, a Master’s in Sustainability and Environmental Management from Harvard University, and a Master’s in Environmental Law and Policy from Vermont Law School. Among her other academic accolades, she was a recipient of a Fulbright Distinguished Lectureship in the Philippines.

Between earning her many advanced academic degrees, Venkatesan served as a liaison for several Fortune 250 companies where she developed responsible social and corporate investing strategies and reporting.

Venkatesan involves her passion for academics with the Sustainable Practices mission by creating educational curriculums in environmental sustainability and economics for schools, corporations, non-profits, government, residents and visitors of Cape Cod as part of Sustainable Practices’ three-point action plan.

Fostering conscious consumerism plays a significant role in the activity of the organization. The ‘Cape Cod Municipal Plastic Bottle Ban’ is a Cape-wide initiative whereby Sustainable Practices encourages Cape Cod towns to eliminate non-emergency use and sale of single-use plastic bottles on town properties.

Plastic manufacturing and disposal is a leading cause of environmental concerns that contribute to climate change as well as groundwater, land and air pollution. Plastic waste has amassed in the world’s oceans to such an extent as to disrupt the entire food chain.

The most prevalent example of plastic pollution in the ocean is an area identified as the Great Pacific garbage patch. This patch is the largest of the five offshore plastic accumulation zones in the world’s oceans. It is located halfway between Hawaii and California.

According to The Ocean Cleanup, a non-profit organization founded by Dutch inventor Boyan Slat in 2013, the patch covers an estimated surface area of 1.6 million square kilometers, an area twice the size of Texas or three times the size of France.

Ocean plastic pollution has been accumulating since the widespread use of plastic production following the Industrial Revolution in the early 20th century. The plastics that began to be produced at that time still exist and inhabit the ocean, sometimes still intact as when it was produced. Other times the plastic breaks down into smaller pieces known as microplastics. Because plastic is not water-soluble, it will never fully decompose in water and will remain in the oceans.

The microplastics do not merely float harmlessly in the sea; instead they are there consumed by the ocean’s wildlife. This leads to a phenomenon known as biomagnification. When an animal lower on the food chain consumes a toxin, that toxin is passed on to whatever animal higher on the food chain consumes the lower animal. With humans being the top of the evolutionary cycle of animal consumption, those plastics consumed by marine wildlife ultimately end up in us.

The danger here is that plastics, especially in reference to the single-use plastics that are everywhere in global consumer products, contain carcinogenic (cancer-causing) chemicals.

The recycling of plastic bottles has also proven not to be a sustainable solution. Most bottles never end up in the recycling bin in the first place, but even those that do may be incinerated, causing more pollution.

Previously, recycling in America had been a commodity sold to other nations like China and India. Those nations no longer purchase our waste en masse because in those countries the plastic is not recycled either and those deals have left them with literal mountains of garbage.

Sustainable Practices has had success so far with their bottle ban initiative. To date, they have been successful in the passage of the Municipal Plastic Bottle Ban in Provincetown, Wellfleet, Harwich, Chatham and Orleans. The organization will be focusing on the remaining Barnstable County towns of Barnstable, Bourne, Brewster, Dennis, Eastham, Falmouth, Mashpee, Sandwich, Truro and Yarmouth throughout the rest of 2019.

Other ways Cape communities can become involved with Sustainable Practice’s efforts include donations, volunteering and participating in some of the events that the organization hosts.

The Chatham Orpheum Theater has partnered with Sustainable Practices for a film series focused on social justice, environmental justice and economic equity themes. The films screen at 9:30 AM on the first Saturday of the month.

Developing sustainable action plans, communication strategies and financial plans for corporate social responsibility is also a key component of the organization’s community action plans.

Follow Sustainable Practices on Facebook & Instagram @sustainablepracticeltd or contact (917) 496-0440 for information or to volunteer.

Photograph courtesy of sustainablepracticesltd.org