How do western plastic use habits reflect plastic pollution worldwide?

Hey guys its been a while once again but we’re back with yet another round of research. This round I focused on social behaviours relating to plastic usage as well as some popular misconceptions.

Littering is a behavioural issue and has increased in parallel with our use of disposable products and packaging(1). Over 340 metric tons of plastics are produced in the world annually and about 50% of this volume is for disposable applications(2). A leading cause for littering could be greenwashing which is an advertising tactic to make something appear more environmentally friendly than it is such as biodegradable plastics. Biodegradable plastics will only decompose in a high-temperature (av. 140°F (60°C)) industrial composting facility under strong UV lights(3). This has lead to a more carefree attitude toward plastics due to people have been lead to believe they’re doing good by using biodegradable plastics in place of conventional plastic. The problem lies in that biodegradable cups for example are still being sent to landfills where they will never decompose due to the lack of sunlight, heat and oxygen required for decomposition. In an experiment commissioned by https://www.motherearthnews.com/, four “biodegradable” plastics were tested in a composting facility to see how fast they would decompose; only one had made significant progress after 25 weeks(4). This proves that even biodegradable plastics are an outcome of greenwashing and don’t provide any solution to the ever growing problem that is plastic pollution. (4)

2010 06 june-july biodegradable-plastic jpg

Contrary to popular belief, recycling is not the answer. The majority of recycled plastics are only recycled once or twice before being finally disposed of in landfill or incineration(6), and those plastics can never be recycled to the same quality product and as a result are often recycled into lower grade materials which are then not able to be recycled any further. The reason we think simple recycling is the answer is because it’s the easiest way for our government to tackle our waste management issues and therefore suggests we do it. If we do not send our waste to be recycled, it ends up in landfill and oceans but if we do, the government can export our recyclable waste to China and other East Asian countries. Since 1992, China has imported 45 per cent of the world's plastic waste. Unfortunately for us, China has recently put into effect a ban on the import of foreign waste leaving countries scrambling to manage their own waste. It is now “estimated that by 2030, 111 million tonnes of waste will be ‘displaced’ and have nowhere to go”. (5) It won’t be until then that we really see the effects our plastic usage has on the environment for at the moment it’s being shipped out of sight.

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(1) Https://Rstb.royalsocietypubli...ntent/364/1526#sec-3 

(2) Https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/pmc3791860/

(3) https://www.huffingtonpost.com...truth_b_8954844.html

(4) https://www.motherearthnews.co...lastics-zmaz10jjzraw

(5) https://www.cbc.ca/news/techno...import-ban-1.4712764

(6) https://ourworldindata.org/faq-on-plastics#note-23

 

 

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Original Post

Hi Sephine,  

This is a great post! I find this topic really interesting and it is very relevant. We all use plastic every day in some way or another.  

As I was reading, I realized that I had always wondered how biodegradable plastics decompose but never really give too much thought to it. I found it really interesting when you talked about how even though they are “biodegradable” they only actually decompose in very specific conditions and not just out in nature. I also found it interesting when you talked about greenwashing and how companies try to make their product look environmentally friendly as this is definitely something I has seen before. I had never realized that we previously shipped our recyclable waste to China and other countries, it might be interesting to find out how us exporting our waste has affected their environment.

Here is a source that you may find interesting,

https://www.cnbc.com/2018/04/1...-stop-pollution.html

 

Hey Sephine, 

Great job on this post! I learned quite a few interesting points in this research, like the term greenwashing. I had no idea what it was, but finding out that it is an advertising tactic to make something seem more environment friendly which causes littering really surprised me! 

This research gave me quite some knowledge of our current situation considering pollution, plastics, and our environment. I suggest in your next round you could discuss how the effects of plastic usage affect our oceans and the animals.

Here is a link you might find useful: 

https://www.independent.co.uk/...ycling-a8309311.html 

Good luck

Hi Sephine! This post was great! I found it super easy to follow, and your explanations were well-worded and had a good flow.

I learned quite a bit from your post- thank you for informing me! I didn't know before that plastic only, really, gets recycled once or twice. I thought, as a good citizen, it was my duty to recycle everything so that it can be reused and our environment will be better for it. I find it very disconcerting that, although it's better than throwing it in the garbage, our recycles continue to end up in the ocean with our landfill, even though we recycle. Or, even, that our trash is being imported by China. I also found the topic of greenwashing very intriguing- the fact that companies are trying to make their products look more environmentally friendly then they actually are. 

Great work!

Wow this was a really impressive round!

I am really impressed, it was really well written and organized.  It amazes me that as humans, and with all our advances  that we are silly enough to not put this as one of top priorities.  The earth is something that can be fixed with the latest technology, we can't just magically create more space for our waste to go.  I learned a lot from your post about things i thought i knew, and was shocked about the truth.  I am really looking forward to reading your next round and the new information i will find out!

good luck

Hi!

Wow, I never realized that recycling wasn't helping. I've always been taught since elementary school that if you recycle it's like you didn't even produce any garbage, but now I know that's not true. It's hard to see past what we are being told. It's considered to be "common knowledge" that recycling helps the environment. Why do you thing this is? It might be an easy way of the government "solving" the problem. Whatever the reason is, we clearly need to find another solution. Is there anything that we could actually do? Or are we just consuming to much for the environment in which we live in?  

https://www.theatlantic.com/ma...ume-too-much/376877/

AMAZING job on your research

Good luck with your future posts,

-Jasmine

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