As for the Florida dolphin that died this week, researchers aren’t yet ruling out an underlying disease or maternal separation to explain how she ended up sick, alone, and far from home. They will continue to analyze the dolphin’s remains in a lab. But they also emphasized the fact that our use of plastic is highly problematic. “This finding highlights the need to reduce single-use plastic and to not release balloons into the environment,” FWC wrote in its Facebook post.

So, if you are still debating whether to choose between plastic and an organic cotton tote—the production of the latter taxes precious water resources and contributes to climate change—please add our dead dolphin friend to your list of considerations. And remember not to flush your contact lenses down the toilet, because those too are ending up at sea, where creatures ingest them to the detriment of their health.

Litter, critters, and us

Still, the news isn’t all terrible. Around the world, people are getting wise to the dangers of single-use plastics. In today’s London marathon, for example, plastic bottles of water are being replaced with pouches made of seaweed (minus the smell and green color) at the 23-mile mark. Organizers are hoping to reduce waste from the race, which 41,000 runners will participate in, and are aiming to cut the number of plastic bottles used this year by 200,000. Meanwhile bans on plastic bags, straws, stirrers, and balloons are increasingly being adopted by environmentally conscious communities.

Activists are impressed with the transformation. “We’re seeing society change right before our eyes, and it’s an incredible moment. The public awareness has reached the point where the public policy is changing,” Adrienne Esposito of the Long Island, New York advocacy group Citizens Campaign for the Environment, told Newsday this week.

Unlike so many of the world’s pressing problems—wealth inequality, wars, climate change, hate—curbing the use of plastic, being careful about where we trash it, and picking up litter is something each of us can easily manage.

You might even find it feels pretty nice to collect garbage when you think it could save a sea turtle or dolphin’s life, as I have. It used to seem weird and gross to me to collect the bottles, cans, and random flip flops that collect along the shores in Sarasota. But now I do it easily and it seems like a tiny gesture that helps mitigate the other negative effects of my existence, and quite possibly helps spare some living creature pain. If we all act now, then future generations will also be able to experience the exquisite pleasure of sharing waters with healthy dolphins.

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