How to deal with single-use plastics

Elephants and plastic waste; single-use plastics are a big problem
Elephants and plastic waste; single-use plastics are a big problem

Single-use plastics (SUPs) are terrible for our environment. Humans have created an estimated 8.3 billion metric tons of plastics since the 1950’s–79% of this has ended up in landfills, floating in the oceans, or otherwise lays about us as waste. By 2050, the amount could be 12 billion metric tons. “Most plastics don’t biodegrade … so the plastic waste humans have generated could be with us for hundreds or even thousands of years.”

But, from a commercial standpoint, SUPs are great. Cheap, durable, and light, they work particularly well for food and beverage storage; they are used in huge amounts globally. And, they have become so inexpensive (and convenient) that they are mostly used just one time and then thrown away.

So, how can we begin to fix this problem of plastic pollution? How can we lessen the amount of SUPs that are used and produced?

Awareness of the problem is not enough; many people are aware of it. Pictures of plastic waste fouling beaches and animals killed by ingesting plastic abound, yet the problem and the SUP industry only grows.

Maybe the solution lies in disrupting SUPs economically. If the awareness was coupled with real out-of-pocket costs for consumers and industry to cover the actual cost of disposal and environmental damage (would you pay $0.75 more for your coffee order to properly dispose of that SUP cup?), then SUPs may become less cheap and less convenient. And, when technologies no longer have those advantages and are no longer quite so attractive commercially, then use and production often decline.

Read the article (Thales Teixeira, Scientific American, 3 April 2019).

And, go to the source — Production, use, and fate of all plastics ever made (Roland Geyer, et al., Science Advances, 19 July 2017).

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