“There is no such thing as ‘away’. When we throw anything away it must go somewhere.” says environmentalist Annie Leonard. What happens to waste when one throws it out? Some of the natural trash biodegrades, the other is not that simple. Unnatural materials, such as plastic, take years to biodegrade, and by the rate of it, those materials thrown out today will last for up to a 1,000 years (D’Alessandro). Every piece of plastic ever made is still around, and has not degraded. So where does it go? Into a growing amount of landfills, the once blue oceans, and the streets and parking lots in urban areas. Over the course of human history technology has enabled the population to enjoy an easier life. The wide use of plastic around the globe is harming the oceans, the lands, and the future.
The use of plastic has circulated through society since it was first successfully made in 1869 by John Wesley Hyatt. The world plastic first meant something that was easily shaped. Plastic was first invented as a mean of acting as a synthetic to natural resources (Leighton). Plastic cutlery was invented to reduce the amount of labor restaurant employees and owners had to provide, therefore, more cost-effective. The plastic bag was made to stop the depletion of trees (a renewable, and decomposable resource) from the production of paper bags (“The Purpose”). Not to say that all plastic is bad, because it has helped advance technology, such as producing cars, planes, and electronics. However, single-use plastic differs from others, because after one use one must dispose of it, deriving no other purpose from it (“What Is”). The simple convenience of Ziploc bags, pre-made packaged food, and plastic bottles, has left the population with no choice, but to consume single-use plastics. Eventually, over the hundred plus years, the waste has piled up, and so has the harm on the world. Once regarded as an advanced discovery, plastic is currently becoming the enemy of many people, and definitely the environments. The product has been in the back of the communities mind for a few centuries, and although not always regarded as a problem, it is been in the spotlight. It is now, more than ever, an issue.
Plastic is apart of everyday lives in the United States. Could one go about their day without encountering plastic? What about single-use plastic? Currently, the average American disposes of 185 pounds of plastic each year, multiply by the population, that is 60,254.5 million pounds (D’Alessandro). Only around a fifth of the pollution is recycled. This has affected the health of the environment tremendously. The oceans contain up to 150 tons of plastic, and the amount is rising eight million tons per year. “Plastic has been found in more than 60% of all seabirds and in 100% of sea turtles species, that mistake plastic for food.” (“Plastics”). Over a million seabirds and water animals die yearly from the pollution of plastic (D’Alessandro). The alarming amount of plastic in the ocean affects the creatures that live there, injuring their digestion process and of course, their habitat (Howard).
The vast amount of plastic sitting in the environment has also impacted climate change. Global warming, recently revised to climate change, has researched back evidence of harm on the world. Research recently conducted has found that plastic, when decomposing emits greenhouse gases, which have been linked to the numerous causes of climate change. The overwhelming sum of plastic littered around produces harmful gases by the surface area of an item that sits in light, the warmer the light, the larger the emission. Weirdly enough, as time goes on and the plastic breaks down more, the surface area becomes greater. Therefore, an ongoing cycle occurs, with plastic and climate change. “As the climate changes, the planet gets hotter, the plastic gives off more methane, increasing the rate of climate change and the circle continues.”(“A New Link”). Single-use plastic is affecting the future and the survival of the Earth. The population needs to sustain the effort and dispose of their plastic products properly, in order to decrease the emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
Do not give up yet, because there is some hope, plastic has come into national attention. Lately, the educated population has raised awareness against single-use plastics. For example, the image of the straw has changed lately, with many people, and restaurants quitting them. More and more people are bringing reusable bags to the grocery store, as well as carrying reusable water bottles everywhere. Making these type of concessions decisions, and more add to the effort land and ocean conservatives are striving for.
Businesses that rely on plastic to survive may be the only enemy against reducing. A cut back on plastic means a loss of sales, and possibly bankruptcy. Corporations like Hefty, Ziploc, and Aquafina, could suffer big time. However, what if these companies switch to producing alternatives that involve zero ties to plastic? Perhaps, the environment would thank them.
Those in the medical field argue for various uses of plastic to ensure sterile equipment. “Many plastic products are purposely designed to be used only once. No matter the product, proper disposal is key to making sure no plastics end up where they shouldn’t.” says medical professionals. In the hospital setting, plastic instruments are the most cost-effective and safest product that allows the professionals to go on with their task (“The Purpose”). Meanwhile, scientists are looking to save the plastic industry, claiming they are essential to modern life, but switch to environmentally friendly ingredients (Leighton). No matter the reasoning, the professional world can agree on the need for a cut back on plastic.
With one common enemy, environmentalists and other professionals have slightly disagreed on how the plastic issues should be solved. In November of 2018, aquariums across the United States and the globe came together to participate in “no straw November”. The month hoped to raise awareness about the intake of straws around the sphere, and even inspire lawmakers and businesses to go straw free (Howard). Outlawing one plastic product at a time can largely diminish the toll it takes on the landscape.
Meanwhile, large corporations are doing their part as well. Companies such as Coca-Cola, Pepsi, L’Oreal, and Nestle are joining forces to cut down on plastic packaging in the industry. This action will take away 20 percent of packaging waste globally. The name of this incentive is the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment, who is partnered with the United Nation, believes packaging should be repurposed rather than in a landfill (Howard). The NWPEGC sees a solution is reusing and recycling, rather than cutting back on materials made.
A coalition called NextWave has made a plan to redirect the plastic stream away from the Oceans. Residents in coastal areas collect discarded plastic on the beaches, and NextWave ships it to companies that have recycling initiatives. Big corporations like HP and Ikea have joined this coalition, along with eight others. Hewlett Packard alone has saved three million pounds of plastic from entering the ocean in five years (Howard). Big businesses have all the power in the situation revolving plastic, and if they all make an effort to avoid it, the use will go down substantially.
The European Parliament, on the other hand, voted for a single-use plastic ban in October of 2018. The parliament is focused on banning items like plastic cutlery and plates, cotton buds, straws, drink-stirrers and balloon sticks (“Single”, Howard). Even President Trump has taken measures to see that plastic comes out of the ocean. “As president, I will continue to do everything I can to stop other nations from making our oceans into their landfills,” he said in October (Howard). Different industries and governing forces have divergent views on how to solve the world crisis, however, each step against plastic is the right one.
Individual people can do many different things to take single-use plastics off the market. Everyone is familiar with “reduce, reuse, recycle” because as school children it is embedded into his or her brain. However, how much does one actually turn to the slogan for advice? In the most effective solution for single-use plastics, reducing is the key. While reusing and recycling is positive, it is not the big impact Mother Earth is counting on. Even if recycling statistics went up, it still does not solve the problem efficiently. One can integrate plastic out of their lives, stop getting food to-go, buying in bulk, and boycott large corporate use of plastics (Engler). Investing in reusable food packaging is positive as well, buy substitutes to plastic sandwich bags and containers. Also, doing everything digital is important too. Stop using cd’s, flash drives, and plastic cases to hold the items, instead, do everything online. Voluntarily cleaning up the environment is one of the best ways to beautify the land and beaches (D’Alessandro). As a global community, governments, corporations, and citizens must come together to save the planet and the future it holds.
The pollution has gone on for far too long, and viable solutions are in sight. The banning of single-use plastic would help immensely with the problem at hand. Putting simple restrictions on plastic use could go a long ways towards the effort against plastic. To slowly integrate life without plastic (working towards zero use) could free the oceans, lands, and ensure an eco-friendly future. The government should start by putting taxes on plastic items, that will encourage citizens to have a reusable substitute, versus spending extra money on unnecessary plastic (Engler). Perhaps, if the United States legislative proposed a ban, by taking note from the European Parliament, the consumption of plastic would slowly seize, resulting in a healthier environment to live in.
Once known as a revolutionary new item, plastic, has become a detriment to the human and animal habitat. There are many horrors the globe will face if single-use plastics are not properly disposed of, cut back on, or cancelled, the environment’s future is at risk. Casual ocean swims will vanish, scuba diving will be gone, nature walks could be trash filled. As an earthly community, one must step up and end the attack on our mother. Because, if not solved, soon and quickly, daily life as one knows it will vanish. The future can be wading through plastic waste in the streets or breathing through oxygen masks. However, it does not have to be, by individually doing one’s part, the outlook can be saved and cleaned up for the better.
- “What Is Single Use Plastic?” Plastic Free Challenge, www.plasticfreechallenge.org/what-is-single-use-plastic/.
- “Single-Use Plastics Ban Approved by European Parliament.” BBC News, BBC, 24 Oct. 2018, www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-45965605.
- “The Purpose of Single-Use Plastics.” This Is Plastics, Plastics Industry Association, 2 May 2018, www.thisisplastics.com/environment/the-purpose-of-single-use-plastics/.
- Leighton, George R, et al. “The History and Future of Plastics.” Science History Institute, Science History Institute, 20 Dec. 2016, www.sciencehistory.org/the-history-and-future-of-plastics.
- Howard, Brian Clark. “A Running List of Action on Plastic Pollution.” National Geographic, National Geographic, 1 Nov. 2018, www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2018/07/ocean-plastic-pollution-solutions/.
- “Plastics in the Ocean.” Ocean Conservancy, oceanconservancy.org/trash-free-seas/plastics-in-the-ocean/.
- D’Alessandro, Nicole. “22 Facts About Plastic Pollution (And 10 Things We Can Do About It).” EcoWatch, EcoWatch, 28 Sept. 2018, www.ecowatch.com/22-facts-about-plastic-pollution-and-10-things-we-can-do-about-it-1881885971.html.
- “A New Link Between Plastic and Climate Change.” PARLEY, www.parley.tv/updates/2018/7/23/a-new-link-between-plastic-and-climate-change.
- Engler, Sarah. “10 Ways to Reduce Plastic Pollution.” NRDC, NRDC, 11 Dec. 2018, www.nrdc.org/stories/10-ways-reduce-plastic-pollution.