We use hundreds of billions of disposable cups and lids annually, 100 billion more than we did only five years ago. Like most plastic products on the market, they end up poisoning our natural environment. But, plastic has not always been the bane of nature’s existence and could become more abundant in the future if drastic measures are not taken now.
When plastic was introduced in the early 1900’s, the material was seen as a sustainable replacement for scarce resources like tortoise shells, horns, and other animal parts. Household items and appliances were now cheaper and more durable. The real plastic issue began when the industry decided to increase their production of single-use plastics. Now, plastic was not to be reused, and consumers then were forced to keep buying plastic along with every purchase. Legislators in the 1960’s attempted to regulate single-use plastics but instead were convinced to fund curbside recycling programs that shifted the blame for plastic pollution onto the consumers. In the plastics industry’s opinion, there would be no waste if consumers just recycle their plastics. Since recycling programs did not work, the U.S. government sent our plastic waste abroad to other countries. Yet, through these two waste management “solutions,” only one in 400 coffee cups end up being recycled.
Returning to the issue of plastic cup pollution, the point of this piece is to show the level of damage this specific area of waste is inflicting and the ease in which plastic pollution reduction can occur. Left in the environment, these cups can take up to 1000 years to decompose. In the landfills, the plastic can take a million years to decompose. One may think switching to biodegradable coffee cups is the answer to their personal waste issue. Unfortunately, biodegradable cups may leech harmful chemical compounds into the soil when composted. The paper layer of these plastic-coated paper cups requires 20 million trees to be cut down annually, decreasing natural flood barriers in areas around the wood extraction site. One must not forget that other forms of environmental and communal degradation occur when plastic cups are produced.
As the world slowly transitions away from reliance on oil, fossil fuel companies plan to rely more on revenue from their plastic sales. The plastic problem will most likely become worse if more action is not taken now. On Seaside's website, one can learn about plastic waste issues in Massachusetts, read the plastic ban guide, take a variety of sustainability quizzes, and volunteer for beach cleanups. The easiest way to live a slightly more sustainable lifestyle is to purchase a reusable cup or bottle for drink consumption. For example, one can buy a ripplfect mug for less than $30 and never have to use a single-use cup ever again. The subject of plastic waste is written about constantly, but this daunting problem still deserves attention. Do your part in the fight against plastic pollution, because taking action at the individual level has never been easier or more important.
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