I am honored to be here, and I'm honored to talk about this topic, which I think is of grave importance. We've been talking a lot about the horrific impacts of plastic on the planet and on other species, but plastic hurts people too, especially poor people. And both in the production of plastic, the use of plastic and the disposal ofplastic, the people who have bull's-eye on their foreheads are poor people. People got very upset when the BP oil spill happened for very good reason. People thought about, "Oh, my God. This is terrible, this oil. It's in the water. It's going to destroy the living systems there. People are going to be hurt. This is a terrible thing, that the oil is going to hurt the people in the Gulf."
Whatpeople don't think about is what if the oil had made it safely to shore. What if the oil actually got where it was trying to go? Not only would it have been burned in engines and added to global warming, but there's a place called "cancer alley", and the reason it's called "cancer alley" is because the petrochemical industry takes that oil and turns it into plastic and, in the process, kills people.It shortens the lives of the people who live there in the Gulf. So oil and petrochemicals are not just a problem when there's a spill, they're a problem when there's not. And what we don't often appreciate is the price that poor people pay for us to have these disposable products.
The other thing that we don't often appreciate is it's not just at the point of production that poor people suffer.Poor people also suffer at the point of use. Those of us who earn a certain income level, we have something called choice. The reason why you want to work hard and have a job and not be poor and broke is so you can have choices, economic choices. We actually get a chance to choose not to use products that have dangerous, poisonous plastic in them. Other people who are poor don't have thosechoices. So low-income people often are the ones who are buying the products that have those dangerous chemicals in them that their children are using. Those are the people who wind up ingesting a disproportionate amount of this poisonous plastic and using it. And people say, "Well, they should just buy a different product." Well the problem with being poor is you don't have those choices. You often haveto buy the cheapest products. The cheapest products are often the most dangerous.
And if that weren't bad enough, if it wasn't just the production of plastic that's giving people cancer in places like "cancer alley" and shortening lives and hurting poor kids at the point of use, at the point of disposal, once again, it's poor people who bear the burden. Often, we think we're doing a goodthing. You're in your office, and you're drinking your bottled water, or whatever it is, and you think to yourself, "Hey, I'm going to throw this away. No, I'm going to be virtuous. I'm going to put it in the blue bin." You think, "I put mine in the blue bin." And then you look at your colleague and say, "Why, you cretin. You put yours in the white bin." And we use that as a moral tickle. We feel sogood about ourselves. Maybe I'll forgive myself. Not you, but I feel this way. And so we kind of have this kind of moral feel-good moment.
But if we were to be able to follow that little bottle on its journey, we would be shocked to discover that, all too often, that bottle is going to be put on a boat. It's going to go all the way across the ocean at some expense. And it's going to wind up in adeveloping country -- often China. I think in our minds we imagine somebody's going to take the little bottle, say, "Oh, little bottle. We're so happy to see you little bottle." (Laughter) "You've served so well." He's given a little bottle massage, a little bottle medal. And say, "What would you like to do next?" The little bottle says, "I just don't know." But that's not actually what happens....