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

On an old episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in July 1992, Oprah put her audience through a social experiment that puts racism in a new light. Despite being nearly two decades old, it's as relevant today as ever.

She split the audience members into two groups based on their eye color. Those with brown eyes were given preferential treatment by getting to cut the line and given refreshments while they waited to be seated. Those with blue eyes were made to put on a green collar and wait in a crowd for two hours.

Staff were instructed to be extra polite to brown-eyed people and to discriminate against blue-eyed people. Her guest for that day's show was diversity expert Jane Elliott, who helped set up the experiment and played along, explaining that brown-eyed people were smarter than blue-eyed people.

Watch the video to see how this experiment plays out.

Oprah's Social Experiment on Her Audience www.youtube.com

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Cadbury has removed the words from its Dairy Milk chocolate bars in the U.K. to draw attention to a serious issue, senior loneliness.

On September 4, Cadbury released the limited-edition candy bars in supermarkets and for every one sold, the candy giant will donate 30p (37 cents) to Age UK, an organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for the elderly.

Cadbury was prompted to help the organization after it was revealed that 225,000 elderly people in the UK often go an entire week without speaking to another person.

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Young people today are facing what seems to be greater exposure to complex issues like mental health, bullying, and youth violence. As a result, teachers are required to be well-versed in far more than school curriculum to ensure students are prepared to face the world inside and outside of the classroom. Acting as more than teachers, but also mentors, counselors, and cheerleaders, they must be equipped with practical and relevant resources to help their students navigate some of the more complicated social issues – though access to such tools isn't always guaranteed.

Take Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, for example, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years, and as a teacher for seven. Entering the profession, she didn't anticipate how much influence a student's home life could affect her classroom, including "students who lived in foster homes" and "lacked parental support."

Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience, says it can be difficult to create engaging course work that's applicable to the challenges students face. "I think that sometimes, teachers don't know where to begin. Teachers are always looking for ways to make learning in their classrooms more relevant."

So what resources do teachers turn to in an increasingly fractured world? "Joining a professional learning network that supports and challenges thinking is one of the most impactful things that a teacher can do to support their own learning," Anglemyer says.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience.

A new program for teachers that offers this network along with other resources is the WE Teachers Program, an initiative developed by Walgreens in partnership with ME to WE and Mental Health America. WE Teachers provides tools and resources, at no cost to teachers, looking for guidance around the social issues related to poverty, youth violence, mental health, bullying, and diversity and inclusion. Through online modules and trainings as well as a digital community, these resources help them address the critical issues their students face.

Jessica Mauritzen, a high school Spanish teacher, credits a network of support for providing her with new opportunities to enrich the learning experience for her students. "This past year was a year of awakening for me and through support… I realized that I was able to teach in a way that built up our community, our school, and our students, and supported them to become young leaders," she says.

With the new WE Teachers program, teachers can learn to identify the tough issues affecting their students, secure the tools needed to address them in a supportive manner, and help students become more socially-conscious, compassionate, and engaged citizens.

It's a potentially life-saving experience for students, and in turn, "a great gift for teachers," says Dr. Sanderlin.

"I wish I had the WE Teachers program when I was a teacher because it provides the online training and resources teachers need to begin to grapple with these critical social issues that plague our students every day," she adds.

In addition to the WE Teachers curriculum, the program features a WE Teachers Award to honor educators who go above and beyond in their classrooms. At least 500 teachers will be recognized and each will receive a $500 Walgreens gift card, which is the average amount teachers spend out-of-pocket on supplies annually. Teachers can be nominated or apply themselves. To learn more about the awards and how to nominate an amazing teacher, or sign up for access to the teacher resources available through WE Teachers, visit walgreens.com/metowe.

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One of the major differences between women and men is that women are often judged based on their looks rather than their character or abilities.

"Men as well as women tend to establish the worth of individual women primarily by the way their body looks, research shows. We do not do this when we evaluate men," Naomi Ellemers Ph.D. wrote in Psychology Today.

Dr. Ellers believes that this tendency to judge a woman solely on her looks causes them to be seen as an object rather than a person.

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Culture