Companies like McDonalds, Coca-Cola and SodaStream have made pledges to reduce plastic use in the coming years, but real change in terms of improved reuse and recycling will take a concerted effort among lawmakers, corporations and average people changing their habits. "You can’t just leave it up to households — they have no chance," said Roland Geyer, a professor at the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management at the University of California at Santa Barbara. "The plastic producers should share a significant part of the responsibility.
The real impact comes in plastic pollution: In Asia, demand for plastic consumer products is high, but according to a 2019 UN report, poor waste management practices have led the area to be the top contributor of plastic waste into the world’s oceans. "South-East Asia is a primary source and victim of plastic, where it is choking seas and threatening ecosystems and livelihoods," said Kakuko Nagatani-Yoshida, the UN Environment Programme’s Regional Coordinator for Chemicals and Waste, when the report was released. "If we want to solve the marine litter problem globally, we have to solve it in this region.
And with the coronavirus pandemic changing consumer consumption habits — more takeout, more online ordering in boxes — 2020 certainly won’t be the year that we cut down on single-use plastic. "Basically everywhere we look now, we find plastic," said Jenna Jambeck, a professor at the University of Georgia’s College of Engineering who researches plastic waste. "It’s all around us, and we know it’s in the air and in different food products.
Even if you try to replace plastics with another material, like paper, there’s still an ecological impact: You’d just be throwing away a paper bag after a few hours, instead of a plastic one. "The sustainable answer would be to create a circular system which reuses the items as much as possible," Haider said. "Plastic products would not be a problem if we reused them. " For example, you can reuse plastic grocery bags far more times than paper bags because they’re more durable.
While producing a plastic bottle from recycled materials uses less energy than making one from scratch, that bottle made from recycled plastic costs more and is usually of poorer quality. "Nothing is designed for recycling — it’s all an afterthought," he said. "We get a material that costs more to produce than it’s worth on the market.
You also don’t have to try to immediately eliminate all single-use plastic in your life — it’s too overwhelming, Jambeck said. So go easy on yourself. "If you slide back and forget to bring your bottle out and buy a drink, that’s OK," Jambeck said. "Be forgiving with yourself and don’t give up just because you missed one time.
While eight states including California and New York had banned single-use plastic bags, they’ve made a return as localities have relaxed their bans and some grocery stores have prohibited the use of customer-owned reusable bags to keep employees healthy.
It is not all about replacing plastic items itself, but about a general reduced consumption of single-use items no matter if they are made of plastic, paper or other materials.
Plus, recycling requires sufficient collection and machinery resources. "Not every country has resources to create a sustainable recycling system," said Tobias Haider, a research associate at PlastX, an organization based at the Institute for Social-Ecological Research in Frankfurt, Germany, that explores the role of plastics in our society and their impacts on the environment. "If you don’t have that, you also don’t have the resources to tackle the waste problem itself.
Can we kill plastic? https://t.co/HnXeM0wXg5— CNET News (@CNETNews) August 3, 2020
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