Why is plastic and plastic waste such an important topic?
The subject of plastic and plastic waste, in particular, is not going away and rightly so. For too long we have turned a blind eye to what happens to plastic when we have finished with it and its many pathways into the environment. Fundamentally, plastic use has grown so quickly it has completely outstripped the capacity to recycle it, so most of it is burned, buried or washes out to sea as pollution.
The plastics crisis is much more than a waste-management problem. The real story starts as soon as oil and gas are extracted from the ground and continues long after plastic waste enters the ocean and other ecosystems. Not only is plastic production a major source of greenhouse-gas emissions; it also releases a wide range of other chemicals into the environment, much of which ends up in creeks, rivers, oceans, our lungs and stomachs. The climate and plastics crisis are two sides of the same coin. To keep global warming within an acceptable range, we absolutely must reduce the amount of plastic we produce, consume, and discard.
Analysts predict the world’s production of plastic wrapping on food will only increase, as population increases. The plastic industry’s view is that they are not the problem but rather it’s the lack of waste management services and poor user behaviour (littering consumers). Of course, we all must bear blame. The plastic industry needs to look at other solutions for food wrapping. Buying food locally would be a great start (if it is possible). We are certain there will be a technological solutions to this. Equally, so many communities do not have a regular, reliable waste management collection service. When you are focused on earning enough to buy one meal for the day, disposing of litter correctly, when there is no bins or garbage collection service, is not your highest priority. So, all arguments have merit and some user behaviours are understandable.
What are the high-level takeaways on the solutions to our plastic obsession?
1. We must dispose of plastics carefully. Plastics and plastic bags that are discarded carelessly can cause clogging of sewers and bodies of water, consumed by animals causing suffering and death and damage to ecosystems in creeks, rivers and oceans.
2. Once you select to use plastic, please understand that it has a life way longer than our own. Plastic bags (and other types of plastic) are difficult to decompose on the ground because of their long carbon chains, making it difficult for microorganisms to decompose. Accordingly, plastic bags will take hundreds to thousands of years to decompose if in landfill.
3. We must force manufacturers and their supply chains to change their distribution and delivery systems towards refillable and reusable systems, and to take responsibility for the damage their products cause as the true cost is certainly not being reported anywhere!
4. There is little doubt that society needs to invest in better waste-collection and processing systems. However, the developed world also must stop exporting its plastic waste to the developing world for so-called “recycling.” That is just moving the problem around.
While better waste-management and more recycling are both imperative, the only real, lasting solution is to produce less plastic in the first place. There are now lots of biodegradable substitutes. The first step is to phase out single-use items such as plastic grocery and garbage bags, cutlery, and, yes, those wonderful bendy straws.
environment4change will promote solutions that meet these goals through action and education of our members. We believe a community-based approach is the best means to disseminate these important messages. Bans on single-use plastics and lobbying against local waste incineration to protect against air pollution. Entrepreneurs will design innovative solutions to clean up Mother Earth.