More Recycling Won't Solve Plastic Pollution

Jul 18, 2018

Matt Wilkins of Scientific American recently wrote an article that presented the idea that it is not the individual habits of each person that is leading to the pollution problems, but rather it is the wasteful technology being implemented. He posits, "the lie is that blame for the plastic problem is wasteful consumers and that changing our individual habits will fix it." It is true that we all could do a little more when it comes to recycling and our plastic footprint, but it is difficult to overcome the overuse of plastic bags.

The very idea of manufacturing plastic items on a wide-scale level is a "reckless abuse of technology," according to Wilkens. Take grocery bags for example, which are used on average for about 12 minutes. However, these bags can linger in the environment for half a millennium. So, no matter how many people recycle, those bags will still exist. To really solve the plastic pollution problem, these single-use plastics should be avoided in the first place.

And aside from the difficulties recycling different plastics, there are also other dangerous factors to consider. They pose multiple threats to wildlife through entanglement and consumption and some more recent developments indicate an absorption of toxic chemicals in the water. And some plastic odors even mimic some species' natural food. It is also likely that we are ingesting plastic ourselves when consuming seafood. It is undeniably dangerous for plastics to exist in our ecosystems.

To combat the use of plastics, Wilkens presents a few reasons. The first is to simply reject the lie. Understand that it is more a systemic issue than a people issue. It is far too easy to use plastic than it is to generally recycle. That is a problem and leads to his second reason "talk about our plastic problem loudly and often." Start conversations and get people aware of the issues at hand. Once people are aware of the issue, then real changes can occur through their actions, such as protesting. The third and final aspect is to simply think bigger. Instead of just reducing waste by a small fraction, think about a shifting lifestyle to help ensure that nearly everything is reused, recycled or composted. That would be the truest way to combat the plastic pollution problem.