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Planet vs Plastic: What Can We Do to Create a More Sustainable Future?

By Annie Button (Guest Blog Writer)

 
 

The battle between our planet and the all-pervasive presence of plastic has reached a critical point. Plastic pollution has emerged as one of the most pressing environmental issues of our time, posing a grave threat to the very ecosystems that sustain us. The exponential surge in global plastic production, from a mere 2 million metric tons in 1950 to a staggering 400 million metric tons today, has triggered an environmental crisis of unprecedented proportions.


Landfills are inundated, our parks and beaches are marred, and our rivers and oceans are suffocating. It’s undeniable that we need to fundamentally rethink our relationship with plastics, if we are to safeguard our planet for future generations. So, how do we combat plastic pollution, and what does a sustainable future actually entail? 


Scope of the Issue

In the US alone, more than 35 million tons of plastic waste is produced annually. Plastic waste directly harms habitats; wildlife which can become entangled in it or mistake it for food, and it also threatens entire ecosystems by releasing toxic chemicals, transporting invasive species and contributing to climate change.


The situation in our oceans is particularly alarming, with some areas accumulating over 5 kilograms of plastic per square meter. At this rate, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimates that by 2050 the total weight of plastic in the ocean could exceed that of fish. The main barrier is that much of the plastic currently produced is too complex to recycle in a closed loop.


Despite 7 billion tons of global plastic waste being produced, less than 10% is recycled, and it comes in so many forms. For example, adults in the US spend an average of $500 upgrading their tech every year, yet more than half report having never traded a used item for a new one. The types of plastics being manufactured have proliferated into the thousands, while our recycling systems can only handle certain polymer types. 


Is a Completely Plastic-Free World Possible?

While plastics have allowed modern conveniences, their unchecked expansion has created dramatic environmental harm. We must critically examine our dependence on plastic and focus on the transition toward more sustainable materials, shifting cultural mindsets and consumer behavior. 


Through advances in recycling technology and responsible product design, we can work to mitigate plastic waste while shifting away from the throwaway culture that allowed this epidemic to occur. We can transition to a circular plastic economy that captures used plastics and feeds them back into production, but we must equally be more open to forgoing plastics when viable alternatives exist.

The vision of a world without plastic pollution is achievable if we work together. Our future must prioritize effective waste management, taking responsibility for the lifecycle of plastic products, while eliminating their harm to the planet. 


Steps We Can all Take

While companies and governments must take a lead, there are some impactful steps we can take as individuals: 


Shop With Intention:

  • Bring reusable bags, bottles, straws, and food containers whenever possible, supporting plastic bag bans, polystyrene bans and bottle deposit programs.

  • Choose products with minimal packaging - fresh foods over packaged snacks, bar soap over liquid soap in plastic bottles, etc.

  • Support retailers and brands that use sustainable materials and practices.

  • Avoid products containing microplastics, like fleece fabrics and exfoliating cosmetics.


The demand for these options will drive change on a more widespread scale. By taking small but meaningful steps each day, we can collectively build the momentum needed to overcome the planet’s plastic epidemic. 


On a societal level, solutions could include:

  • Developing innovative biodegradable or compostable plastic alternatives made from plants, food waste, or CO2.

  • Scaling up more circular recycling systems and improving processes to recover higher quality materials.

  • Promoting alternative materials like glass, metals, paper and bamboo.

  • Ensuring corporate responsibility across supply chains and promoting plastic-free commitments.


Creating a world without plastic pollution is within our grasp, but it will take effort at all levels, from individuals making changes in daily habits to policymakers enacting system-wide transformations. The future depends on our everyday choices and actions, bringing about real change.


Enacting Policy Change

Individual actions are important but transforming the plastic crisis also requires policy changes at  municipal, state, and national levels. Here are some impactful ways to contribute to policy progress:

  • Contact your local and national government representatives, voicing support for legislation that limits or bans certain types of single-use plastics.

  • Advocate for regulations that require companies to meet plastic waste and emission reduction targets across their operations and supply chains.

  • Push for Extended Producer Responsibility laws that compel companies to pay for and manage the waste generated by their products and packaging.

  • Demand government incentives to spur research, development, and consumer adoption of sustainable alternatives to plastics.

  • Participate in the regulatory process by submitting public comments on proposed policies during open comment periods.

  • Support environmental organizations engaged in advocacy through donations or volunteer work.

  • Use social media platforms and writing campaigns to increase public pressure on lawmakers and industry leaders.


By channeling our voices towards policy change, bringing individual and collective effort together, we can stem the tide of plastic threatening our planet’s health.


Make a change now 

Plastic pollution is by no means a lost cause. Companies and governments must proactively lead change, alongside individual daily choices and advocacy. If we refuse unnecessary plastics, push for systemic change and pioneer alternatives we can collectively make a difference to our planet. We cannot wait - the time for change is now. Our future hangs in the balance.


Annie Button is a digital content creator and freelance writer. Check out her other work on her website: www.anniebutton.co.uk.


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