Slide Created By Gerald Lee
I would recommend watching “Plastic Wars” created by PBS before continuing, as a lot of what will be discussed here will be based on this film.
If you have watched the film, a lot of what I will say is review. However for those who didn’t, here is a quick summary. Many American consumers do not recognize that some plastics are not actually quickly recyclable, requiring a lab to break down some types of plastics. This causes a lot of plastic to just be thrown away, since using lab chemicals to break down one plastic item is too costly or too toxic. Only cans and other certain plastics can be easily melted down and reused. The leftover is made into huge bricks or “hay bales”, which are called mixed plastics, and end up just being thrown away or transported to other countries to be shoved into their landfill. The symbols and their respective recyclability can be seen on the image to the left.
How was this myth concealed? “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” is a saying manufactured by the plastics company to allow people to be more comfortable in using plastics. It is a scam to get consumers to think they are helping the environment by using a “reusable item”. Plastics companies know that plastics can cause more harm than good. But the issue is not just the plastic companies’ fault or the people’s faults. Oil and fuel companies, food companies, and other lines of work rely on plastics for safety, low cost efficiency, and sanitation. Food is wrapped in high grade, cheap plastic. Yogurt comes in plastic containers, and helmets and other PPE or safety equipment relies on plastic as the primary barrier between the human and the chemicals. These single use plastics are the convenience we take for granted; we need plastics, but it is also destroying our environment. Where the main issue lies is that these companies that rely on plastics are not willing to give up plastics at all. Alternatives to other plastics can actually do more harm than good, since alternatives are usually more expensive and less safe than the actual plastic being used. Until the alternatives can be cheaper, equally or more safe, and environmentally friendly, these companies will not budge.
As of now, “91 percent of all plastic is not recycled at all” and it is from the collective billions of people on this earth who use millions of cans, plastics, and other trash that we have no capability of recycling such a huge amount of waste (NRDC). So what do we do? How can we tackle such a huge problem?
Here is where awareness is a key factor. Most likely, you will read this paragraph and continue to use single use plastics or plastics that cannot be recycled. In the COVID-19 environment this is more vital than ever to use plastics to maintain safety. However, what you can do is be aware; look to reuse some plastic spoons/forks/knives, containers, plastic bags, etc. and look for ways to repurpose the waste. There will be some that you must waste, but you can do your best to minimize it. Attempt to persuade other researchers to make experiments and research towards solving this crisis, or even get in touch with the government to make recycling more streamlined and more effective. Research needs to be done in this sector in order to begin discussion on how to reduce plastic wastes.
To read more on plastics (and climate change) see these articles:
Anonymous, "Green Job Sector: Education and Awareness Recycling", contributed by Gerald Lee, Disaster STS Network, Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography, last modified 14 September 2021, accessed 16 September 2021.