We know the world is full of plastic. Indeed, there has been so much awareness raising and discussion that we stand in danger of information fatigue, potentially switching off as we normalise the statistics and the shocking visuals of the plastic-swamped ocean beds. Potentially background news in a plastic world.
It is true that at a local level, we can see what is happening positively with practical actions gaining traction to produce compostable coffee cups, to withdraw plastic straws and the recent Irish Government initiative to cease use of ‘single use’ plastics departmentally. “Zero-waste” or plastic-free shops, which sell nothing wrapped in plastic, are springing up. Plastic-free aisles are becoming common in supermarkets.
However, it seems as if we’ve been conned into thinking the problem of plastic packaging can be solved through better individual action. We’re told that if we simply recycle we’re doing our part. We’re told that if we bring reusable bags to the grocery store, we’re saving the world. We think that if we drink from a reusable bottle, we’re making enough of a difference.
But the truth is that we cannot recycle our way out of this mess.
Recycling alone will never stem the flow of plastics into our oceans; we have to get to the source of the problem and slow down the production of all this plastic waste. Think about it: if your home was flooding because you had left the tap on, your first step wouldn’t be to start mopping. You’d first cut the flooding off at its source – the tap. In many ways, our plastics problem is no different.
Until consumers started to campaign loudly, food, drink and other heavy plastic-using businesses took little responsibility for single-use plastic waste, expecting urban collection services and a small recycling market to clean up the litter and dispose of their products.
Prioritising People and Planet
I watched with horror and a great sense of unease, a television programme about how ‘our/my’ waste is managed. It made me think afresh about the consumer relationship with people and planet, and those structures and services we have put in place in society as an acceptable way to manage wastage, and that say to us recycling is enough. See Moving beyond the gospel of eco-efficiency
Taking the battle to those companies
Those companies who flood cities with billions of coffee cups that cannot be recycled, and the 5 trillion plastic bags a year that are designed to be used only once. Ten years ago, it was rare to see individual fruits and vegetables wrapped in plastic. Today raw produce and even wood, metal goods and building materials invariably come wrapped in a plastic film.The companies respond that plastic protects goods from damage and extends the life of food.
It is true to say that a public backlash has shaken global corporations, and now many of them have pledged to change their ways. But although many supermarkets have promised to eradicate non-recycleable ketchup bottles, yogurt cups, and bags of mixed fruit and vegetables, the measures are often vague and voluntary, and many will not be enacted for several years. Not only are companies delaying change, they often confuse consumers by saying their plastic is “recyclable” ,“bio-degradeable” or “compostable”, all of which sound good but in practical terms may be of little use, says Greenpeace U.K. campaigner Louise Edge.
“The individual commitments being made by these companies just don’t go far enough,” Edge says. “Making packaging more recyclable is a step forward, but making more recyclable packaging isn’t. The problem is that leading brands are already producing more plastic waste than our recycling systems can cope with. Just because something is recyclable, it doesn’t mean it will actually be recycled.”
Recycling alone will never stem the flow of plastics into our ocean. We must address the problem at the source.
Addressing the problem at the source
Not long ago, we existed in a world without throwaway plastic, and we can live that way again. The world’s largest corporations – with all their profits and innovation labs – are well positioned to help move us beyond single-use plastics. All over the world people are already innovating toward solutions that focus on reusing and reducing plastics. It’s time to accelerate this process and move beyond half measures.
Corporations are safe when they can tell us to simply recycle away their pollution. We need to recognise that this is their crisis to tackle. We will continue to do our part, but it’s time for the world’s largest corporations to do theirs. Some 322m tons of plastic were produced in 2015, and that number is expected to double by 2025. The good news is that we are at a turning point.
Now, we must demand a new era that prioritises people and planet over profit and convenience. The Global Sustainable Goals (SDG’s) all 17 of them are a good starting point.
The information to inform this article was taken from the following links:
- Huffington Post: We live in a World full of Plastic, and People are Sick of It
- The Guardian: Our Plastic pollution crisis is too big for recycling to solve