Many more countries have been joining the worldwide trend of banning single-use plastics: disposable plastics that are only used once before they are thrown away or recycled. They include items like plastic bags, straws, coffee stirrers, soft drink and water bottles, and most food packaging. Single-use plastics have been creating an environmental disaster in terms of the pollution associated with them. They also pose serious threats to public health.
Cities and countries all over the world have been taking radical action and banning single-use plastics. And while this is no doubt a promising and necessary trend, it simply won’t be enough to curb pollution and climate change.
The plastic pollution problem
Annie Leonard, executive director of Greenpeace USA, recently published an article in The Guardian with the headline ‘Our plastic pollution crisis is too big for recycling to fix’. As Leonard writes:
Every minute, every single day, the equivalent of a truckload of plastic enters our oceans. In the name of profit and convenience, corporations are literally choking our planet with a substance that does not just “go away” when we toss it into a bin. Since the 1950s, some 8.3bn tons of plastic have been produced worldwide, and to date, only 9% of that has been recycled. Our oceans bear the brunt of our plastics epidemic – up to 12.7m tons of plastic end up in them every year.
It is, of course, important for individuals to take responsibility for their actions. If you habitually buy, use, and throw away single-use plastics, then you are contributing to the pollution of the oceans. But the thing is, while stopping this behaviour may have a positive impact, it is not going to solve the problem. We can’t save the world with reusable bags and reusable bottles. Leonard argues, “we cannot recycle our way out of this mess”.
The real solution, in her view, means addressing the root cause of the problem. We need to stop producing so much plastic in the first place. Big corporations like Coca-Cola, Unilever, Starbucks, and Nestle create 500 billion single-use plastic bottles every year. Consumers can make a difference through demand for reusable plastics, and by refusing single-use plastics, but the problem is so massive that these corporations need to be held accountable as well.
The worldwide trend of banning single-use plastics
We really don’t need single-use plastics in order to meet our daily needs. So it’s not as if a ban on disposable plastics will end up disrupting our lives. Countries that have either ban single-use plastics already, or plan to phase them out in the near future, include India, Taiwan, Kenya, Vanuatu, France, Morocco, Iceland, and Rwanda.
A ban won’t fix the problem
Leonard continues to write in her article that these bans won’t fix the problem of pollution and environmental damage. Jeff Wooster, global sustainability director for Dow Packaging and Specialty Plastics, said:
The fact of the matter is that without plastic, we would probably end up with more waste. It would just be a different kind of material, potentially with even more problems.
Indeed, replacing plastic bags with paper could be much worse for the environment. Paper has a much higher carbon footprint than plastic due to the fact that it requires more energy to produce and transport paper bags. Paper is, unlike plastic, degradable, but it has a bigger impact in terms of climate change. Moreover, even if there was a global, total ban on single-use plastics, what about all of the plastic that is already pollution the oceans? This also has to be tackled.
Companies and countries should push for a ban on single-use plastics. However, this has to be done with the plan of replacing plastic with a genuinely sustainable alternative, as well as devising an effective strategy to clean up the oceans.
About the author: Sam Woolfe @samwoolfe
Sam is a freelance writer who is particularly interested in space exploration, sustainability, tech, and agriculture.