Plastic Pollution

Plastic Pollution

With 300 million tons of plastic being produced yearly, 80% of waste that ends up in the ocean being composed of plastic, and an additional 8 million tons of plastic garbage being dumped into the ocean each year, it is crucial that we find a viable solution to the plastic problem soon. Have you noticed the amount of trash floating around in the courtyard? Does it make you mad? It should, because Shaker is only reflecting a small scale problem the world is facing.

But to save not only the courtyard but the planet, change needs to be drastic and must happen immediately. So how do we as a whole begin to tackle the massive obstacle of plastic pollution, and who is responsible for this tedious task? I was fortunate enough to talk with Mrs.Butry, the Green Economics teacher at Shaker High School. She sat down with me and explained, from her educated point of view, what she thinks needs to be done. “The desire to clean up plastic pollution, there’s consensus around it, nobody likes pollution. But the way we get there requires sacrifice and we’re not good at that. However [political divide] is so fiercely competitive, it has taken the focus away from our ability to compromise.” Statistics show us that people over a wide demographic are all concerned for the planet, no matter their age, gender, or even political party. So this challenging task cannot fall solely onto the consumer. It is clear they want to see change in the environment but do not have the power to do so by themselves. Consumers are often not given an opportunity to choose a more sustainable packaging choice in the grocery store; most companies only use  plastic, single use wrappers and don’t give the opportunity of more sustainable options, even at a higher cost or extra charge. The plastic industry has monopolized the market, effectively removing almost every competitor. 

So if not the consumers then who? The companies who support the big plastic producers need to fix their footprint immediately if we are going to have any chance at resolving this problem. Corporations have enough money to look into more viable options that exclude plastic. Recently the popular chain store Aldi has announced, “100% of ALDI-exclusive products, including plastic packaging, will have reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging,” and they plan to achieve this by 2025. That only further proves the point that it is possible and plausible to reduce plastic usage in grocery stores without consumer drawbacks. The people in charge of these corporations are oftentimes ignoring these prominent issues for more money in their pockets, thinking renewable resources will cost them more. What they fail to realize is that the fossil fuel industry is dying out and will not be able to continue production at the level of intensity it currently is, therefore making the reusable resources is a better alternative and a long term investment. “We have to change our buying habits. Consumers have a great deal of power if they want to lead with that power.  If they change their buying habits, change what they demand, corporations will follow. The caveat on that though is that the consumers cannot afford to do it alone.” These corporations have been pushing single use plastics onto consumers for decades, removing their choices in which they need to take responsibility for.

But what business would willingly change a system that is making them money if they don’t need to? This is where the government needs to be involved. When asked, Mrs.Butry said, “It has to be the government, the way our political system is structured, consumers and corporations are going to have to weigh in on that; but at the end of the day it is going to require leadership from our government.” If legislation is passed to tax or heavily fine the plastic making process, we will see more and more renewable packaging being used and produced. We see this in states taking initiative like California and even here in New York. Both states are prime examples of having their government step in with the plastic waste problem. The governors banned single use plastic bags and nearly every store was able to cope with this change, even through a pandemic. This just goes to show that it is possible to correct the wrongs being made towards the environment with the help of people in power. And while it may seem like a small change in our everyday lives, think about how positively it has affected the community. Do you see as many rouge plastic bags floating down the streets? 

But this is just the start of what needs to be done. There are communities in Texas where the childhood risk of leukemia increases 57% simply because of their proximity to plastic producing facilities. And according to the chemical trust, “there are over 4000 chemicals used in the plastic making process and at least 148 have been identified as hazardous to human health and/or the environment.” These are startling statistics that should be enough for the government to enact change, but in order for them to do so the public needs to show initiative in wanting to see a difference.   

As hard as it is to do, asking ourselves these difficult questions and looking at the facts allows us to be a part of the solution. If everyone uses their voice to advocate for change, we will be able to make an impact on our communities, and maybe even see changes in the courtyard. So skip the straw, recycle your bottles and focus on the future.