Mississippi River leaders want to cut their plastic waste 20 percent by 2020

The Mississippi River in the Twin Cities
The Mississippi River is seen at the Ford Dam between Minneapolis and St. Paul.
Lacey Young | MPR News file

There are almost 9 million tons of plastic in the ocean.

It comes from many sources, and mayors along the Mississippi River are trying to take action on how much ocean plastic pollution comes from inland sources.

"The Mississippi River drains an expansive 31-state landscape, it becomes clear that possibly 40 percent of plastic pollution in the Gulf originates from the Mississippi River," said Rita Albrecht, mayor of Bemidji, Minn.

This week, the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative announced an initiative to cut plastic waste along the river by 20 percent by 2020. The idea is that local governments, state lawmakers and private industry will work together to implement plans for curbing plastic use.

Plastic-reduction efforts should include recycling, waste management and making people more aware of how much plastic they use, said Rep. Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul, who's working with the mayors.

In addition to plastic pollution's threat to the ocean, it puts human and wildlife health at risk when it gets into any body of water.

"Plastics don't break down," Albrecht said. "They simply become smaller and smaller, and eventually turn into a dangerous confetti that spreads toxins and accumulates in the food chain, eventually harming all of us through the foods we eat and the water we drink."

Fifty cities and 20 million people draw their drinking water from the Mississippi River, according to the MRCTI.

Thirty-one states — and their plastics — drain into the Mississippi, and eventually the Gulf of Mexico.

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