2019 | Plastic Products & Plastic Bans

With the extreme consumerist society we live in today, companies are looking for ways to produce more while spending less. These methods benefit the company higher up by making more money without giving much thought to how their methods may be affecting the environment around them. With all the amounts of products that consumers purchase and discard, 91% of plastics are not properly recycled and there is now believed to be 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic in our oceans. Keep in mind that plastic was only invented in 1907 and plastic takes at least 450 years to fully decompose; so the first plastics are still existing somewhere in our oceans. Within a little over a century, we have and still are managing to produce and throw away eight metric tons of plastic each year, adding to the 150 metric tons already floating around the ocean. But recently, the US has been implementing different kinds of plastic bans in target locations, such as coastal states. For example, California and Hawaii were the first states to have placed a statewide ban on single use plastic bags, while specific cities began charging ten cents per bag while encouraging Californians to start using reusable bags when it comes to grocery shopping. This past July, Seattle became the first major city in the US to enforce a ban on single-use straws and utensils while California, has begun to start removing straws from restaurants. The UN Environment has even made strides to fight plastic pollution by launching a global campaign to eliminate single-use plastics by the year 2022. With plastic being one of the main sources of pollutant breaking down our natural Earth, are the current bans we are placing enough to combat over a century’s worth of plastic dumping? And with all the awareness being spread today, why can’t the US ban all single-use plastic countrywide?

Only nine percent of the plastic products shoppers have purchased is actually properly disposed and recycled. This is often due to the fact that a lot of states in the US do not mandate recycling and when it comes to the laziness of people, some may find it too much effort to sort through trash and properly recycle plastic. Even when people do recycle after finishing the use of their product, if even a single piece of trash were to fall in the wrong place, it ruins the batch of plastics to be recycled and requires even more sorting. With 260 million metric tons of plastic products being produced around the world each year, about ten percent of those plastics end up in our oceans.

Now that we know the statistics, we move onto what the United States of America is currently doing to combat these extreme numbers on plastic damage. California and Hawaii were the first states to put into place a statewide ban on the single-use bag, such as the ones people may find in grocery stores. Within these states, each city is tackling bags differently. Plastic bags now out of the picture, paper bags are being used as a replacement but many cities and counties across California are placing ten to 25 cent fees on paper bags to further encourage shoppers to bring their own reusable bags during check out. More and more cities in other states are now beginning to take similar measures with bans and charges as California and Hawaii. When it comes to the single-use plastic straw bans; New York, California, Hawaii, Washington, New Jersey are already implementing the bans. California, Hawaii, and New York City having pending straw ban legislation. Seattle became the first city in the United States to place a ban on plastic straws and all plastic utensils and now full-time restaurants in California have gotten rid of straws. Even companies are banning the use of straws. Starbucks, for example, is beginning to transition from straws to recyclable plastic lids and even paper and compostable plastic straws. Many airlines are even taking action. Shelby O’Neil, a 16-year-old girl scout, was able to convince Alaska Airlines to ditch plastic straws and stirrers, and now Alaska Airlines has partnered with a Seattle based nonprofit organization, Lonely Whale, to support their plastic movement.

Around the world, there are countries mandating plastic bans and the United States need to take an example from some of them. Kenya, for instance, has implemented one of the strictest bans on plastic bags. If one were to be found using, selling, or manufacturing a plastic bag, they could face a prison sentence up to four years or get fined 38,000 USD. Canada is banning plastic in microbead form, often found in cosmetics and bath products, by prohibiting the manufacturing, import, and sale of them. A third country fighting plastics is Taiwan. Taiwan has placed one of the farthest-reaching bans, by phasing out all single-use plastics including straws, bags, cups, and utensils. Taiwan’s movement should be fully in place before 2030.

When we question the effectiveness of these bans on the environment, there is a lot we are certain about but the future is promising. Since Ireland’s plastic tax, plastic pollution and litter has decreased by a whopping 95 percent. A study conducted in San Jose has concluded that there has been a decline in the litter of “approximately 89 percent in the storm drain system, 60 percent in the creeks and rivers, and 59 percent in City streets and neighborhoods.” With the research currently conducted, plastic bans are serving as the right step towards winning the battle against the already existing and tremendous amounts of plastic pollution.

Take Away:
From all the research I have conducted, I have learned quite a bit about the staggering numbers and effects plastic products have on our environment and the measures we need to take in order to combat such disasters from worsening. Since I am from California, I have already learned to phase out plastic bags and am quite proud to have kept it up in New York. After the extensive research, I feel motivated to start phasing out plastic packaging and bottles as my first steps by carrying my own refillable bottle on me and bringing my own sources of packaging. If everyone or a mass amount of people are able to give in the same amount of effort, I believe we can create a huge impact on the environment. The United States prides itself as being one of the most modernized and progressive countries, but if we cannot contribute to plastic bans as other countries such as Kenya, then how can we keep our pride when the evidence of plastic effects is so evident.

Category: Sustainability
Industry: Recycling
Location: International
Related to: Sustainability, future of sustainability, world economy, sustainable systems, recycling
Reviewer: Samantha Chun / Parsons School of Design