Mary Kosuth's article on the environmental and public health concerns of plastic pollution should be a wake-up call ("Post-pandemic, plastic is the crisis we face," Opinion Exchange, Feb. 15). The COVID-19 pandemic pales before the enormity of the issue of plastic pollution. Plastics are burned in many countries, releasing cancer-causing, birth-defect-causing, lung- and brain-damaging dioxins and other chemicals into the air that eventually settle on the crops we eat and surface waters we ultimately drink.
Plastics in our oceans break down into microparticles and are in the fish we eat as well as the water we drink and air we breathe, along with toxic chemicals that adhere to these microparticles.
Scientists have linked ocean microplastics with declines in ocean phytoplankton that are a major source of atmospheric oxygen and "sink" for absorbing carbon dioxide, ecological services similar to what our forests provide for all life on planet Earth.
Phytoplankton, along with zooplankton, which are also harmed by microplastics, are the foundation of the marine food chain, the other end of which is threatened by overfishing.
The COVID-19 pandemic and post-pandemic socioeconomic recovery should not distract us from the urgency of addressing the global crisis of plastic pollution, a petrochemical product whose harmful consequences were never considered but that we now must all face.
Michael W. Fox, Golden Valley
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I have always recycled, learning at an early age in the 1950s because our garbage hauler took away newspapers and flattened cans. Nowadays, most of the food I buy is enclosed in plastic, and it is driving me crazy. I regularly have to refer to both my county's and my hauler's requirements for recycling plastic, yet I cannot keep straight what I can and cannot put in my recycling bin. Many food containers have a number on them and so can be recycled (if that number happens to be on the list), and some other containers can as well. But what about the food containers that aren't on the list? Some plastic film goes in my recycling bin, but what do I do about the film I have enclosed my windows in this winter, as it's not on the list? I compost all of my kitchen waste, along with containers that have the proper biodegradable number on them. Many plastic bags I can take to the grocery store (and don't forget to cut the label off those mailers with bubble wrap). But what about the bags I buy produce in? I recycle everything I can figure out. This means that the preponderance of waste in my trash bin is plastic.
I don't add a lot to a landfill, but what I do add is plastic. I try and I try but can't seem to do enough.
Marie Ward, West St. Paul
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Kosuth's commentary highlights the other pandemic that has gone on for years: plastic pollution. In the ice of Antarctica and everywhere else on the planet, including our dinner plates and drinking glasses, plastic is ever present.
As she wrote, the plastic industry has benefited from the COVID pandemic by creating fear about our reusable bags, promoting plastic bags instead. Add to that all the personal protective equipment, body bags, masks and vaccine equipment produced by the hundreds of millions, most made from plastic, and it's clear we have a crisis on our hands.
Unfortunately, in the '60s and '70s when plastic trash became an eyesore, the plastic industry told us that because we made the mess, it was our responsibility to clean it up, passing the guilt unto consumers for the increase in plastic pollution while it continued to produce this deadly product. The industry assured us that recycling was the answer to the problem, but time has told us otherwise.
As it has done in the COVID pandemic, science needs to step up again to find alternatives to the plastic pandemic. As Kosuth concludes, if we can swiftly create a COVID vaccine, surely we can find a way to make plastic truly sustainable.
Pat Helmberger, Grand Rapids
One problem: What exactly is a lie?
Cass Sunstein's remedy for the malady of lying statements — "taking them down" from social media and other platforms — overlooks one key question: What's a lie? ("Must freedom of speech include the freedom to lie?" Opinion Exchange, Feb. 16).
In many cases, the boundary between truth and falsity is blurred. In others, an incorrect statement may be made unwittingly.
The failure to define what constitutes a lie runs rampant. The repeated references to the number of "lies" told by former President Donald Trump constitute a prime example. The Washington Post, one of the most fervent followers of his mendacity, calculated more than 30,000 during his term, an average of more than 20 per day.
But the tabulation does not separate intentional falsehoods, the dictionary definition of lie, from other erroneous statements made carelessly, rhetorical hyperbole, exaggeration or due to plain ignorance. Many of Trump's prevarications fall into various of these categories, some multiple ones.
As Sunstein notes, the Supreme Court has allowed civil sanctions, money damages, in defamation cases based on falsifications about public officials, public figures or in matters of public concern. But the standard for falsity in those cases requires proving that the communicator made the statements with "knowing falsity" or extreme recklessness and does not extend to inaccuracies uttered inadvertently, unintentionally or born of ignorance.
Thus, attempts to rein in lying need to differentiate between varied types of falsifications and recognize that when it comes to restrictions, one size may not fit all erroneous statements.
Marshall H. Tanick, Minneapolis
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Sunstein's commentary speaks to the core of the threat to decent society and the well-being and survival of our nation's democracy that Trump brought. There was no "more speech" available to us to counter the lies by Trump that could have saved us from this insanely disputed election and this horrific attack on the Capitol that nearly killed members of Congress, including the two next in line for the president, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the then-vice president.
It's not that just one man could usually have that much effect. The Republican Senate failed to realize that who says these lies, especially about invented election fraud, matters the most. The power of lies is geometrically greater with the power and status of who is telling the lies. Trump, as president, abused the Constitution and endangered our core as a nation — that we are a democracy — with his lies. His allies in the Senate tried to pass all his lies off as just words. No, they weren't just words. With the power of his office, and with the power of his loyal echo chamber that he cultivated, they were an attack on an essentially defenseless nation, our ideals and our ability to survive together, with the word "United" effectively being taken out of our nation's name. If we are to survive, we have to stop the lying. We have to stop the magical thinking that lies, especially from people on high, are just words.
Paul Rozycki, Minneapolis
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