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Plastic pollution was first recognized in the mid 1900s when plastic debris was beginning to be found in our oceans. Since then, plastic production has increased, but so have efforts to combat the use of plastic. However, every year around 400 million tons of plastic is produced globally. Convenience is one of the main reasons keeping plastic alive. It’s cost-effective, water resistant, and durable. However, single-use plastics (straws, plastic bottles, utensils, etc.) are discarded too easily, carelessly ending up in the streets and natural spaces where they break down into microplastics and pose a toxic threat to ecosystems, wildlife, and humans. The U.S. has one of the highest plastic consumption rates in the world. Plastic has integrated itself in our society in such a way that even though we are now aware of its harmful effects on the environment, removing even single-use plastics is proving a challenge. However, with raising awareness and implementation of plastic bans, there has been improvement among the states towards a cleaner and safer future.
Currently, the U.S. has not placed a single-use plastic ban on a federal level, but this responsibility has been taken up by states and cities. Connecticut, California, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, New York, Oregon, and Vermont have all placed bans on plastic bags. San Francisco was the first city to completely ban plastic bags in 2007. The rest of California implemented their plastic bag ban in 2014, and since then there has been a 70% reduction in plastic bag usage within the state. However, you can still find plastic bags in grocery stores, as rules have not been properly enforced over the past few years. New York faces a similar situation, as plastic bags were banned in the state in 2020 but some businesses still continue to distribute them; again mostly due to lax enforcement of pollution rules. Some of this can be attributed to COVID-19, which complicated efforts towards reducing plastic usage. The surge in gloves, masks, and other PPE have been detrimental to the health of our oceans. Since the beginning of the pandemic, oceans have seen more than 57 million pounds of COVID-related waste. On a brighter note, as the world is starting to recover from the effects of the pandemic, attention is returning to the effects of plastic on the environment, with stricter enforcement. The pandemic has brought to attention once again how serious the plastic pollution problem is, and the many pollution reduction policies that have been suspended or postponed are being put into effect again.
Looking to the future, the U.S. Interior Department has stated that by 2032, single-use plastic products will be phased out of national parks and some public lands. Around 480 million acres of federal land will be under this new legislation. In an attempt to carry this out, the department is working to set up their plan of action, including installing more water fountains and influencing unsustainable public behavior for the better. This is predicted to reduce around 14 million tons of plastic that ends up in our oceans.
Though it may be some time before plastic bans will be implemented on a federal level, the current focus should be on what can be done on a smaller scale, such as in cities and counties. Since one of the main issues is compliance to these bans, check to see if your city or state has bans already in place and actively follow the guidelines for them. You can check your local government’s website or conduct a simple search online to see what plastic reduction ordinances are put into place. It may be difficult to realize if your area is under a single-use plastic ban, so spreading the word to friends and family is an easy way to raise awareness so people can be more conscious about their plastic use choices.
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