In 2019 alone, the world produced more than one ton of plastic for every person alive (Plastic Pollution, Our World in Data, April 2022). One group estimated that humans worldwide go through one trillion single-use plastic bags every year, nearly 2 million every minute (Earth Policy Institute, n.d.).
Plastic waste increasingly threatens the health of all living creatures on land and in water environments.
Environmental activists have called on everyone - from governments and companies to individuals and families - to reduce their use of plastic, but it is not easy to even imagine how to do so. Plastic offers so many positives, from life-saving technologies to daily conveniences.
Given society’s dependence on plastics, is it possible to have a no-plastic day?
Writer A.J Jacobs decided to try to live without plastics for a day. In a New York Times article, he detailed how he put away his iPhone (it has plastic components), sought plastic-free products for morning hygiene (charcoal mint toothpaste pellets instead of toothpaste from a plastic container), found old clothes that were plastic free, took a folding wooden chair for his seat on the subway, went shopping with cloth bags and glass jars, and paid for purchases with coins instead of a credit card or paper money (bills have plastic fibers in them). Despite his best efforts, there was no way to avoid plastics. They are too interwoven into daily lives.
The expansive use of plastics comes not only from their affordability but also from many years of deceptive marketing tactics which made it seem like plastics were the best purchase because they were recyclable. While the Federal Trade Commission's "Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims" states that "it is deceptive to misrepresent, directly or by implication, that a product or package is recyclable" (p. 6), the plastics industry has successfully convinced the public that plastics can easily be recycled when, for the most part, plastics are buried, burned, or end up in the ocean (Sullivan, 2020).
What role should the government play, if any, in the oversight of marketing products that are harmful to the environment and world?
In the following activities, you will first evaluate how plastics have been and are currently marketed. Then, you will propose a plan for civic action to address the issue of the impact of plastics on the environment.
Activity 1: Research the History of Plastic Marketing in Media
Activity 2: Propose a Plan for Civic Action
Writers Jay Sinha and Chantal Plamondonto (Life Without Plastic: The Practical Step-by-Step Guide to Avoiding Plastic to Keep Your Family and Planet Healthy, 2017) urge people to reduce the plastics they use throughout their day. For example, not using plastic straws, choosing shampoo bars instead of packaged shampoos, taking one’s own paper containers to the store for purchases, and reusing containers instead of throwing them in the trash. Small efforts, they contend, can result in larger results. Using this idea of small actions/meaningful results, do at least one of the following activities:
Develop a civic action plan for how your school, family, and/or people in your neighborhood can reduce the use of plastics. As part of the plan, identify specific actions and changes that individuals can take as part of their daily lives and routines.
Propose policies that educators or local governments take to reduce plastic consumption and waste in school buildings and local neighborhoods.
Write a letter to your representative or senator indicating your position on the Environmental Justice for All Act. The EJ for All Act, introduced in Congress in 2021, seeks to combat environmental pollution and harm hard facing communities of color, low-income communities, and Native/Indigenous nations and communities.
- Science Matters: History and Future of Plastics from the Science History Institute summarizes developments in plastic production from the invention of the first synthetic polymer in 1869 to the explosion of plastics during World War II and the postwar years to the growing realization that plastic use and waste have grave environmental consequences.
- WIKI RESOURCE: The Environmental Movement