If you don't think twice about the plastic strap around a package, here's why you should.

Picture a young sea lion — let's call him Joey — taking an afternoon swim along the coast of Alaska and coming upon a long, shiny plastic loop.

Of course, Joey doesn't know the loop is plastic. All he knows is that he's never seen something like this wriggling through the water before, and he'd love to play with it.  

"Sea lions are curious and playful creatures by nature," explains Sue Goodglick, a wildlife biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game program that studies and tracks Steller sea lions like Joey. So, she says, when they come across plastic objects like this, they usually like to play with it.


A Steller sea lion in southeast Alaska. Photo via Cale Green/Flickr.

Joey is only 2 years old — a juvenile — so playing is his top priority right now. It's how he practices hunting and swimming so he can be prepared for whatever life throws at him.

He doesn't know this plastic thing isn't a glimmering fish or a fun piece of kelp but something dangerous.

It probably got to the ocean after someone a little too eager to open their package of new hair products tossed it carelessly aside after unwrapping the box. When people don't take time to properly discard plastic items like package wrappings, these items can end up on the street and make their way to the ocean through storm drains and other waterways. And even if people do toss such items in the trash, if they are not secured, they are light enough to blow away and right into Joey's path.

Image via Wild Wind/Flickr.

Curious, Joey uses his whiskers, mouth, and flippers to check out this potential new toy.

He almost looks like he's dancing as he turns his head upside down, somersaults, and bops the packing strap with his nose. But as he plays, this strap easily gets stuck around his neck, and without "hands" to pull it off, the loop stays put, like a plastic necklace.

Plastic bands like this one, usually made to wrap around cardboard boxes, are created to be durable, so unlike other materials, they take a long time to degrade on their own. In fact, nobody knows for sure how long plastic takes to break down in the ocean, but estimates say it likely takes decades — maybe even up to 450 years for larger plastic items.

This means that as Joey grows, that plastic "necklace" doesn't come off. Instead, it gets tighter and tighter around him, like a noose, cutting into his skin and muscles. This can lead to infections, slow down his range of movement, suffocate him, or cause starvation and death because he can't move around to find food.

A Steller sea lion entangled in a packing band. Photo by Alaska Department of Fish and Game (research activities were conducted pursuant to a National Marine Fisheries Service permit).

Joey is far from the only sea lion to get hurt by plastic items. 8 million tons of plastic go into the ocean and hurt more than 800 species of animals every year.

These include marine critters like sea turtles, dolphins, whales, and fish. Some mistake plastic for food. Others, like Joey, get tangled up while playing or just swimming around. This is bad news for humans, too, because plastic has been showing up in our seafood after the fish we eat consume it.

"Many types of wildlife are simply unable to avoid encountering [marine debris]," Goodglick says, and Steller sea lions are one of them. Plastic packing bands like the one Joey found are particularly hard for sea lions to resist, making them one of the most dangerous and deadly plastic items. In fact, since 1980, the world population of Steller sea lions has fallen from 300,000 to less than 100,000 — and plastic packing bands are one of the reasons why.

Three plastic packing bands wrapped around a box. Photo by Alaska Department of Fish and Game (research activities were conducted pursuant to a National Marine Fisheries Service permit).

Declining Steller sea lion populations can have a huge effect because without them, the ocean ecosystem where they live can be thrown off balance due to what scientists call top-down trophic cascade. Sea lions are top-level predators, so their eating habits affect the population and behavior of their prey. Without enough of them to keep prey populations in check, other ocean resources can become depleted. Not only that, but sea lion poop is also important in providing essential nutrients for ocean life.

This is why Goodglick is so dedicated and passionate about making sure that we all help prevent further harm to ocean wildlife.

"We all need to take action to prevent new marine debris getting into our oceans and help clear out what's already there," she says.

Volunteers help clean debris from the beach. Image via Cindy Sabato/Compass Rose Beach ICC Cleanup/Flickr.

Making a difference doesn't even have to be complicated — we could all make a difference with a few simple changes.

We can "lose the loop" or cut items like packing bands before we throw them away. That way, if the item happens to cross Joey's path, it won't form a noose and entangle him.

We can also dispose of trash properly — recycle plastic materials, reuse them if you can, and secure garbage can lids so nothing blows away. And if we see someone else's trash on the beach, we still have a chance to grab and secure it before it ends up in the water for Joey to find. Plus, for those who live near the coast, there are always local shoreline cleanups looking for volunteers to help them get rid of the trash that's out there.

Image via Cale Green/Flickr.

But wherever we live, being mindful of our behavior using and disposing of plastic is still important. "Remember our lands and oceans are connected!" Goodglick says. When we rely on single-use plastic for everyday items like water bottles, we create more and more trash that can find its way to water systems through storm drains.

You probably don't feel like a hero when you cut a plastic packing band. But for marine life like Joey, it can be a  life-saving act.

Image via Carolyn J. Gudmundson/Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge/Wikimedia Commons.

And that means you're actually doing a favor for all of the rest of us, too. After all, the ocean provides us with food and nutrients — it sustains all life on this planet. So when that adorable, playful sea lion called Joey can't even get through an afternoon swim without a piece of plastic threatening his life, that's a bad sign for the rest of us. It means we're not caring for the very ocean that keeps us alive.

But when we make a few simple changes to keep plastic out of the ocean, we ensure a healthy planet for all of us. And Joey gets to enjoy his playtime in peace, satisfying his curiosity for life with seashells, kelp, and the other natural treasures he's meant to find.

Heroes
Youtube

Should a man lose his home because the grass in his yard grew higher than 10 inches? The city of Dunedin, Florida seems to think so.

According to the Institute of Justice, which is representing Jim Ficken, he had a very good reason for not mowing his lawn – and tried to rectify the situation as best he could.

In 2014, Jim's mom became ill and he visited her often in South Carolina to help her out. When he was away, his grass grew too long and he was cited by a code office; he cut the grass and wasn't fined.

France has started forcing supermarkets to donate food instead of throwing it away.

But several years later, this one infraction would come back to haunt him after he left to take care of him's mom's affairs after she died. The arrangements he made to have his grass cut fell through (his friend who he asked to help him out passed away unexpectedly) and that set off a chain reaction that may result in him losing his home.

The 69-year-old retiree now faces a $29,833.50 fine plus interest. Watch the video to find out just what Jim is having to deal with.

Mow Your Lawn or Lose Your House! www.youtube.com

Cities

The world officially loves Michelle Obama.

The former first lady has overtaken the number one spot in a poll of the world's most admired women. Conducted by online research firm YouGov, the study uses international polling tools to survey people in countries around the world about who they most admire.

In the men's category, Bill Gates took the top spot, followed by Barack Obama and Jackie Chan.

In the women's category, Michelle Obama came first, followed by Oprah Winfrey and Angelina Jolie. Obama pushed Jolie out of the number one spot she claimed last year.

Unsurprising, really, because what's not to love about Michelle Obama? She is smart, kind, funny, accomplished, a great dancer, a devoted wife and mother, and an all-around, genuinely good person.

She has remained dignified and strong in the face of rabid masses of so-called Americans who spent eight years and beyond insisting that she's a man disguised as a woman. She's endured non-stop racist memes and terrifying threats to her family. She has received far more than her fair share of cruelty, and always takes the high road. She's the one who coined, "When they go low, we go high," after all.

She came from humble beginnings and remains down to earth despite becoming a familiar face around the world. She's not much older than me, but I still want to be like Michelle Obama when I grow up.

Her memoir, Becoming, may end up being the best-selling memoir of all time, having already sold 10 million copies—a clear sign that people can't get enough Michelle, because there's no such thing as too much Michelle.

Don't like Michelle Obama? Don't care. Those of us who love her will fly our MO flags high and without apology, paying no mind to folks with cold, dead hearts who don't know a gem of a human being when they see one. There is nothing any hater can say or do to make us admire this undeniably admirable woman any less.

When it seems like the world has lost its mind—which is how it feels most days these days—I'm just going to keep coming back to this study as evidence that hope for humanity is not lost.

Here. Enjoy some real-life Michelle on Jimmy Kimmel. (GAH. WHY IS SHE SO CUTE AND AWESOME. I can't even handle it.)

Michelle & Barack Obama are Boring Now www.youtube.com

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via EarthFix / Flickr

What will future generations never believe that we tolerated in 2019?

Dolphin and orca captivity, for sure. They'll probably shake their heads at how people died because they couldn't afford healthcare. And, they'll be completely mystified at the amount of food some people waste while others go starving.

According to Biological Diversity, "An estimated 40 percent of the food produced in the United States is wasted every year, costing households, businesses and farms about $218 billion annually."

There are so many things wrong with this.

First of all it's a waste of money for the households who throw out good food. Second, it's a waste of all of the resources that went into growing the food, including the animals who gave their lives for the meal. Third, there's something very wrong with throwing out food when one in eight Americans struggle with hunger.

Supermarkets are just as guilty of this unnecessary waste as consumers. About 10% of all food waste are supermarket products thrown out before they've reached their expiration date.

Three years ago, France took big steps to combat food waste by making a law that bans grocery stores from throwing away edible food.According to the new ordinance, stores can be fined for up to $4,500 for each infraction.

Previously, the French threw out 7.1 million tons of food. Sixty-seven percent of which was tossed by consumers, 15% by restaurants, and 11% by grocery stores.

This has created a network of over 5,000 charities that accept the food from supermarkets and donate them to charity. The law also struck down agreements between supermarkets and manufacturers that prohibited the stores from donating food to charities.

"There was one food manufacturer that was not authorized to donate the sandwiches it made for a particular supermarket brand. But now, we get 30,000 sandwiches a month from them — sandwiches that used to be thrown away," Jacques Bailet, head of the French network of food banks known as Banques Alimentaires, told NPR.

It's expected that similar laws may spread through Europe, but people are a lot less confident at it happening in the United States. The USDA believes that the biggest barrier to such a program would be cost to the charities and or supermarkets.

"The logistics of getting safe, wholesome, edible food from anywhere to people that can use it is really difficult," the organization said according to Gizmodo. "If you're having to set up a really expensive system to recover marginal amounts of food, that's not good for anybody."

Plus, the idea may seem a little too "socialist" for the average American's appetite.

"The French version is quite socialist, but I would say in a great way because you're providing a way where they [supermarkets] have to do the beneficial things not only for the environment, but from an ethical standpoint of getting healthy food to those who need it and minimizing some of the harmful greenhouse gas emissions that come when food ends up in a landfill," Jonathan Bloom, the author of American Wasteland, told NPR.

However, just because something may be socialist doesn't mean it's wrong. The greater wrong is the insane waste of money, damage to the environment, and devastation caused by hunger that can easily be avoided.

Planet

The world is dark and full of terrors, but every once in a while it graces us with something to warm our icy-cold hearts. And that is what we have today, with a single dad who went viral on Twitter after his daughter posted the photos he sent her when trying to pick out and outfit for his date. You love to see it.




After seeing these heartwarming pics, people on Twitter started suggesting this adorable man date their moms. It was essentially a mom and date matchmaking frenzy.

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