Impactful MUBG inaugeral Brown Bag Seminar draws diverse crowd

On Thursday, March 16, Dana Ripper, director of the Missouri River Bird Observatory and certified speaker for the Beyond Plastics program, delivered Mizzou Botanic Garden’s inaugural brown bag seminar, “The Ecological Imperative to Move Beyond Plastics.”


Ripper’s presentation was an eye-opening, personal call to action – and an invitation to become a vocal advocate for reducing the proliferation of plastic products, specifically single-use items such as plastic bags, water bottles and food containers and utensils, which constitute a third of all plastics produced.


Ripper reminded the diverse audience that plastic, invented in 1906, is never totally biodegradable and half of all plastics ever made have been produced since 2005. It is estimated that 8 to 15 million tons of plastic enter the ocean each year.


Only about 9% of plastic is ever recycled; PET and HDPE — Nos. 1 and 2 plastics — are recycled at a rate of about 29%. The remaining types of plastic are almost never recycled and even when plastic is re-made into another product, it’s “downcycled” into a flimsier, single-use product.


As new environmentally friendly energy technologies are adopted, fossil fuel companies are turning to plastics as a new source of revenue. Ripper called plastic “the new coal”, a term based on a recent report by Beyond Plastics and its partners.


“By 2023, the petrochemical industry’s contribution to climate change is on track to exceed that of coal-fired power plants,” Ripper said. “Plastic production will triple by 2050. Currently there are 330 new plants proposed and 47 have been funded.”


Medical research has linked plastic food containers and wraps to cancer and infertility, among other health concerns. Ripper noted that research shows humans consume the equivalent of a credit card of plastic per week.


An international commission led by researchers at Boston College published a sweeping report on March 21, 2023 that says plastics are causing such harm to our health, it's time for global leaders to work together to regulate them.


And its impact on aquatic birds, that actually ingest and feed their fledglings plastic, and fish swimming in waters inundated with microplastics is increasingly detrimental.


Ripper noted that “Albatross”, a film produced by Chris Jordan in 2017, documents the extent of the problem and the devastating impact on these oceanic birds and is so disturbing it is “almost impossible to watch.”


Environmental sustainability is an increasingly important focus for MUBG. From stormwater management practices, to increasing habitat for pollinators, eliminating invasive species in the garden and replacing resource-heavy fescue lawn with native prairie plantings in support of beneficial insects, birds and wildlife, MUBG is modeling sustainability for those who visit the campus garden. Our brown bag seminars are intended to introduce environmental topics to the campus, Friends of the Garden and members of the public throughout the state as well as suggest actionable efforts to those who attend.


Learn more by utilizing the Plastic Production and Pollution Resources put together by Missouri River Bird Observatory and Beyond Plastics. 


Beyond Plastics with Dana Ripper

Dana Ripper, the featured certified speaker with Beyond Plastics for MUBG’s first Brown Bag Seminar on March 16, painted a grim picture of the scope and depth of the problem of plastics pollution for our planet. Pete Millier, MUBG director and head of MU Campus Facilities, introduced the program and Ripper interacted with audience members after her presentation.


Story and photos by Jan Wiese-Fales