Our world has a grossly excessive dependency on plastic. The sheer number of single-use plastic items that permeate our daily lives is staggering. Meander towards your fridge at this very moment and you’ll probably lay your eyes on Ziploc bags, juice containers, condiments, and maybe a styrofoam takeout box—most of which will sit in a landfill for upwards of a millenium once you’re finished with it. Because statistically, there’s very little chance it will get recycled.
But, to be perfectly blunt, guilt on the part of the end consumer is useless. Combating plastic use and reducing plastic waste is a colossal undertaking; calling on private citizens to shoulder the burden is a faulty solution to a grossly misrepresented two-pronged problem:
Sure, those of us that are able-bodied and have the privileged ability to be considerate when we shop should be cognizant of our choices; but we tread into harrowing moral waters when we call on physically impaired people to stop their use of plastic straws or marginalized communities to be more proactive about recycling. We need to flip the script.
The European Union has a clearly delineated strategy for reducing plastic waste, Japan pledges to reduce plastic waste by as much as 25% by 2030, and even President Trump signed legislation to continue to fund the Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Debris Act through 2022. But it’s not enough. Here are four more ways that we can urge our government and corporations to impart change where it really matters.
Despite government subsidies, reimagined recycling processes, and educational campaigns, the price of recyclables is down, making our efforts feel sisyphean. Oversupply of materials is the new norm, and with China (the once-leading global purchaser of recyclables) effectively ceasing to buy recyclables, mixed paper, tin, aluminum, and plastic are being rerouted to landfills.
Clearly, the aim here is not to encourage apathy among everyday recyclers (it’s an important precedent to maintain), but to renew pressure on corporations to shift the onus onto themselves. Get involved with your local government and ask how your city thinks about recycling. Who’s in charge of passing plastic reduction mandates? Does your city already ban single-use plastics? If not, why not?
Coca-Cola is undeniably one of the biggest perpetrators in manufacturing single-use plastic containers. But back in January of 2018, the company passed an ambitious sustainable packaging goal: to collect and recycle the equivalent of every bottle or can it sells globally by 2030.
They’re calling it the “World Without Waste” campaign and it marks a definitive step towards making corporate responsibility the norm. This comes on the heels of its 2009 introduction of packaging that utilizes up to 30% plant-based materials.
Again, this is great but it’s not enough. It’s our job as taxpayers and consumers to keep the pressure on companies that are attempting to shift the sustainable narrative and to differentiate between the performative “changemakers” and those that are making a lasting difference. Don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions, and never accept that a company that still manufactures plastic bottles is doing enough.
Write letters, attend city hall meetings, call your representatives, read studies, talk to your friends, get involved with local non-profits. Educate yourself on how recycling processes work, learn about technologies aimed at cleaning up oceans or creating new compostable packaging. Investigate how this shifting dependence from plastic affects non-able-bodied folks or marginalized communities.
Reducing plastic production, consumption, and waste is an extremely complicated endeavor—ensure you’re not among those that assume moral high ground because you carry around a steel straw. Feel vulnerable in your examination of your personal dependence on plastics. Keep talking.
At the end of the day, your consumption of single-use plastics does matter. It's a critical mindset to maintain if you're privileged enough to be discerning about what you buy. Examine how you might change your consumption habits daily: opt for a growler instead of a six pack, bring your own containers to the bulk section, etc. Above all, though, it's critically important that your consumption habits aren't cacophonous with how you vote or help impact change on a greater scale.