Every industry across the globe utilizes plastic in one form or another. It is used in manufacturing through packaging, shipping, and transportation. It is also used in everyday life through cups, straws, bags, electronics, and more. Its versatility, long life, and benefit-cost ratio make it a major component in everyday use. However, plastics' unique properties make them so indestructible and the simple fact that it’s regularly used for only short periods of time before being tossed into the bin has created an abundance of waste with nowhere to put it. Since landfills are reaching their max capacity as plastic cannot degrade fast enough to allow more fill, illegal dumping and municipal littering have become more common. This causes the plastic to end up in sewage and waterways that ultimately drain into the earth’s oceans. After plastic finds its way into the earth’s oceans, wildlife can mistake it for food, the ultraviolet rays from the sun can release toxic chemicals from the plastic, and major trash islands form in the middle of the ocean. All these scenarios are ultimately hurting the environment and imposing potential threats to human health through food safety. An effective way to address the problem of contaminating the earth’s oceans with plastic is to regulate the amount of plastic that can be allowed in various businesses and their processes, create accessible forms of municipal recycling, and introduce environmentally healthy alternatives to everyday plastic consumers.
First, limiting the amount of plastic that can be allowed in businesses is one of the solutions that help to control the use of plastics. Plastic regulations and entire plastic bans are major components in resolving the plastic oceanic crisis. As mentioned above, plastic is widely used in how companies create, package, and ship various products. In most of these cases, plastic is only used once, for a short period of time. Companies will typically take the cheapest route in all aspects of their many processes. Because plastics are cheap cost, this means using them wherever possible. Currently, packaging materials make up 40 percent of all of the plastic that is being produced (Howard, 2019). If regulations could be put in place by local governments that limit the allowed amount of plastic used in packaging or even replaced it with a paper alternative, which then can be recycled easier or biodegrade faster as it is an organic material, a strong portion of plastic pollution could be resolved. Luckily, this tactic has already been put in place and tested in various parts of the world. In 2015, California became the first state to pass statewide legislation banning all single-use plastic bags at large retail stores, unless available for purchase at 10 cents per reusable bag (Shultz & Tyrrell, 2019). In addition to the ban, California also pushed retail stores to adopt an at-store recycling program for bags and restricted manufacturers from labeling products as compostable or biodegradable unless very specific requirements are met (Shultz & Tyrrell, 2019).
Since this legislation has been put in place, bag usage has been tracked in various California counties. Alameda County’s chain stores were analyzed, and it was discovered that combined, were using over 37 million plastic bags each year before the ban, and decreased to only 2 million after the ban. Also, Los Angeles County discovered its big box stores handed out 2 million plastic bags and 196,000 paper bags annually before the ban, and only 125,000 paper bags a year later. San Jose’s waste disposal service reported that a 35-50 percent reduction in downtime was due to fewer plastic bags getting caught in recycling machines (O'Mara, 2018). Typically, customers go for the free option of new plastic bags with every trip to the store. What local governments in California are discovering is that imposing a price on plastic bags in large retail stores will raise an incentive for the customer to either bring their own bags or purchase reusable bags (O'Mara, 2018). If other governments could follow in California’s footsteps, the number of plastic bags that end up displaced in the Earth’s oceans could dramatically be decreased.
Next, creating accessible forms of municipal recycling is another great step towards cleaning up the earth’s oceans. However, municipal recycling is not required in an overwhelming majority of cities across the United States. Simply, this is due to the fact that it is much cheaper to send all waste to a landfill. However, cities could create more economical ways of integrating a recycling plan into their waste management services. Providing city residents with a free and larger bin, like a garbage dumpster, and collecting at intervals that economically make sense for each city. Whether that be trash is collected once a week, and recyclables are collected once every two weeks or once a month. This way, money can be saved by recycling collection routes being carried out in half or less the normal intervals. In 2002, New York City saw that they were spending twice as much on glass and plastic recycling than landfill costs (Talk, 2018). Thus, New York City decided to drawback its recycling program to paper only. It wasn’t long until landfills raised prices due to the workload of hauling the new amount of trash. Eventually, the city reopened the recycling program again, with a new economic system (Talk, 2018).
Lastly, introducing environmentally healthy alternatives to everyday plastic consumers will ultimately be a benefit to the oceanic plastic crisis. As mentioned above, in the scenario of shopping, consumers and shoppers will typically gravitate to the free option of new plastic bags. If organizations took the initiative to promote a more environmentally healthy alternative to plastic bags, more consumers would follow suit. In manufacturing, using paper is a great alternative to plastic packaging. There are even marketing opportunities for products that are plastic alternatives as many consumers who are more environmentally conscious are looking for these products. Local governments could create volunteer-based committees dedicated to eliminating plastic pollution in the area. Even though recycling has major advantages in the fight against oceanic pollution, it still takes a small toll on the environment. Individuals should know that reusing and repurposing better serve the environment before recycling (Talk, 2019).
An effective way to address the problem of contaminating the earth’s oceans with plastic is to regulate the amount of plastic that can be allowed in various businesses and their processes, create accessible forms of municipal recycling, and introduce environmentally healthy alternatives to everyday plastic consumers. The case studies performed in California following its plastic ban have shown that plastic single-use can be reduced by millions. Municipal recycling plans are indeed an economical option for cities when performed accordingly. Alternative plastic products and solutions can be the initiative for consumers to realize that a life without plastic is viable. Regulating plastic may not always make sense from a fiscal perspective but investing in the environment will keep the earth spinning.
- Howard, B. C. (2019, January 11). A running list of actions on plastic pollution. Retrieved February 26, 2019, from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2018/07/ocean-plastic-pollution-solutions/
- O'Mara, K. (2018, January 11). Are Plastic Bag Bans Actually Helping the Environment? Retrieved February 26, 2019, from https://www.kqed.org/news/11461251/are-plastic-bag-bans-good-for-the-environment
- Shultz, J., & Tyrrell, K. (2019, January 1). STATE PLASTIC AND PAPER BAG LEGISLATION. Retrieved February 27, 2019, from http://www.ncsl.org/research/environment-and-natural-resources/plastic-bag-legislation.aspx
- Talk, E. (2018, July 17). Why Is Recycling Not Mandatory in All U.S. Cities? Retrieved February 27, 2019, from https://www.thoughtco.com/why-recycling-not-mandatory-all-cities-1204150
- Talk, E. (2019, January 07). Do the Benefits of Recycling Outweigh the Costs? Retrieved February 27, 2019, from https://www.thoughtco.com/benefits-of-recycling-outweigh-the-costs-1204141