It’s a blight on our entire planet. So, who should clean up the world’s plastic? The answer may surprise you
By Chere Di Boscio
There can be little doubt that this planet has a plastic problem. Since 1950, over 10 billion tonnes of it have covered the Earth like a cancer. And the worst part? More than half this plastic has been produced since 2004. Yep, that’s right. In 2020 alone, we humans made more than 400 million tonnes of plastic. And if we go on like this, by 2050, global plastic production will reach over 1 billion tonnes per year. Per YEAR, people! I mean, WTH?
The likes of the United Nations and World Economic Forum bang on about ‘climate change’ endlessly. But the bigger problem we have is with plastic. For many reasons.
What’s wrong with plastic?
First of all, plastic comes from dirty fossil fuels. The vast majority of modern plastics are derived from fossil fuel-based chemicals like natural gas or petroleum. Some recent innovations use variants made from plant based materials, such as corn or cotton derivatives.
The dominance of plastics over the past 150 years or so has caused vast, widespread environmental problems.
These include, but are far from limited to:
- wildlife dying from ingesting or getting stuck in plastic
- cancer rates increasing due to the BPA and other toxic compounds of plastic found in food containers
- garbage patches covering the world’s oceans, blocking out light to and suffocating marine animals
- cancer rates increasing due to the toxic manufacturing process of plastic chemicals like PVC
- pollution contaminating the Earth from the extractive industries that give us the base material for plastic
- air pollution from the incineration of plastic waste
Plus, as you probably know, plastic decomposes very slowly. We’re talking centuries, here. So it just piles up and piles up.
Recycling is NOT the answer
You might be thinking: hey, it’s ok. We can just recycle our plastic now, right? Wrong.
Most plastic is never reused, nor is it capable of reuse. Almost all plastics end up in landfills or persisting in the environment as plastic pollution. There’s not even one single case of the world’s major water bodies being void of plastic. And of all the plastic we’ve tossed away so far, around 14% has been incinerated and less than 10% has been recycled. Mainly because it’s not recyclable anyway.
Don’t believe me? Check out our article on recycling to learn more.
More waste than you think
We use plastic for pretty much everything now. Car parts, housing components, packaging, and clothing, for example. But one of the worst culprits for plastic comes from the food industry. In particular, fast-food litter.
This term covers everything from plastic bottles, sweet wrappers, potato chip bags, and food containers.
While we all seem to love our ‘on-the-go’ food and drink brands because of how convenient they are, the packaging from takeaways or meal-deals is creating chaos for our planet.
Wondering just how much fast-food litter are we dealing with?
BusinessWaste.co.uk have taken a deep (bin)dive into just how loyal we Brits are to our consumable brands.
And get this:
- On average, McDonald’s serves over 3.8 million customers a day in the UK alone. This means millions and millions of wrappers, boxes, and soft drink cups are being disposed of every single day.
- Coca-Cola produced over 4 million tonnes of plastic waste in 2019. That number is even larger now.
- Walkers produces over 11 million packets of crisps (potato chips for you Americans) a day. This means over 4 billion packets being produced and consumed a year.
- More than 2 billion Nestle products are sold in the UK alone every year. These include yogurt tubs, chocolates, Nescafe coffee pods, and bottled water. And they mostly all go into landfill.
Yep, most of the top selling fast food products in the world come in non-sustainable packaging. And we need to include in this list coffee takeaway cups.
These may look like they’re paper, but they’re lined with plastic and don’t biodegrade.
Whether you like it or not, most of your food and drink is going to be in plastic. And what I mentioned above is just the fast food! Don’t forget that even if you want to eat clean and healthy, you’ll likely be buying everything from bananas and avocados to Brussels sprouts and meats wrapped in non-recyclable plastics. And so….who should clean up world’s plastic, then?
Image credit below: consumerreports.org
The cost of cleaning up plastic
We consumers seem to have no choice. Large food corporations force their crappy plastic upon us. And why shouldn’t they? They don’t have to clean it up.
So, who does?
Well, we do. Specifically, our taxes pay the bill for litter cleaning. In the UK right now, this currently costs taxpayers around £586 million a year.
Business Waste says: “Consumers have no choice as to what packaging their favourite products come in, so if the big brands don’t want to be eco-friendly then they should have to reach into their pockets to pay for the inevitable amount of waste their items produce.”
And you know what? We agree! But we’d go even further.
Sorry, not good enough!
Some brands such as McDonald’s have partnered with local councils by organising daily litter pick ups. Governments are also cracking down on fast-food litter. They’re introducing new guidance for new applications made by franchises including installing more bins around takeaways to reduce the amount of rubbish. But you know what? That’s nowhere near good enough.
Since we, the consumer, have plastic thrust upon us, we shouldn’t have to clean it up. In fact, it’s not a question of who should clean up the world’s plastic. It’s why the hell is there any of this garbage in the first place?
Governments – who represent US – need to make all new plastics illegal. There, I said it.
Who should clean up plastic garbage?
It’s no longer a question of who should clean up the world’s plastic. It’s a question of why we even have plastic now.
We know of the harm it does to wildlife. We’re aware of the harm it does to our health. And we know the damage it does to eco systems. There is simply no need for new plastics. None!
You might think this sounds extreme, but consider this: before the 1950’s, there was very little plastic commercially available at all. And we got on just fine, thanks. Even fast food joints like McDonald’s wrapped their food in waxed paper and served their drinks in glasses. Coca Cola sold its drinks in glass bottles. Sure, they were more expensive, but you had to leave a deposit for the bottle, return it, then get your money back when the bottle was sent back for reuse.
As for other plastic based products, like polyester and car parts and such, surely the 10 billion tonnes of the garbage our planet already has can be sold to make those products from recycled plastics? Or better yet – make products from more sustainable materials, like we used to.
Takeaway culture and fast-fashion is, in my humble opinion, a blight on humanity. But these industries only exist due to the fact that plastics are allowed by us, as a society. It’s time to realise the serious damage they do, and just say NO to all new plastics.
What you can do
If you agree we should clean up the world’s plastic problem by banning it altogether, you can:
- write to your local mayor, MP or Senator and pressure them into taking action
- do what some Brits have done: collect all the plastic garbage generated by food products and dump shopping cart after shopping cart of it into the supermarkets it came from
- stage an anti-plastic protest outside your local Coca Cola, Nestle or Pepsi factory
- try to stop buying anything in plastic packaging (though I know – it’s everywhere!)
Also, please share this article and any ideas you might have to stop plastic use, below in the comments.
Plastic is undoubtedly one of the biggest problems our planet is facing. But together, we can put an end to it for good!