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K8, GenerationZ Unfiltered- #4

GenerationZ Unfiltered Chief Editors: Kiran Johnson and Rosario Picone


Plastics: The Blame Game, by Kiran Johnson and Rosario Picone


It’s hard to fully comprehend just how many plastics we use in our everyday life. They are everywhere. Take a look around you: you can probably find at least five plastic items where you are right now.


Every minute, each day, the equivalent of a truckload of plastic enters our oceans. Despite having the knowledge that plastics are suffocating our planet, large corporations continue to manufacture and utilize plastic products, which we continue to buy. Why? Well, plastic, however toxic, is cheap and convenient. When we’ve finished using the plastic product, we throw it ‘away’. Little do we know that there is no ‘away’, when it comes to plastics. These materials don’t biodegrade in the same way that other materials do. Instead, they remain in our ecosystems, releasing toxins into the surrounding environment and into the 200 known species that ingest them regularly. What happened to recycling, you may wonder?


It’s astounding how little of our plastic is actually being recycled. In 2015 only 19.5% of our plastic was recycled, 25.5% was incinerated, and 55% was simply discarded. The claim that plastic is ‘recyclable’ is becoming worthless. It’s used as a band-aid, which makes it okay for companies to produce, and consumers to consume plastic products. Recycling can no longer be the sole solution: we have to go to the source.


Over the course of nine months, six continents, 239 cleanup events, and analyzing more than 187,000 pieces of trash, Greenpeace was able to identify the major companies contributing to the vast amount of plastic in the ocean; Coca-Cola was at the top of the list followed by Pepsi, Nestle, Danone, Mondelez, Unilever, Perfetti van Melle, Mars, and Colgate-Palmolive. All of these companies have one industry in common: food and beverages. Packaged food is, and should be, held to a high standard in terms of safety, but the biggest concern is the amount of non-biodegradable materials are being used to achieve this high standard. The food and beverage industries use plastic for 75% of packaging and beverage companies produce approximately 500 billion, single-use, plastic bottles annually.


However, how useful is identifying the source if there is no solution? In as early as 1998, Sagentia was seen developing a paper based bottle that has a very small plastic liner inside. While it isn’t perfect, it uses a small fraction of the amount of plastic as a traditional bottle, and should biodegrade hundreds of years sooner. At the moment, the cost of this revolutionary bottle is 1.5 times the cost of a plastic alternative. Without broader adoption, it’s no surprise that we haven’t found a viable, cost-effective, alternative.


Generation Z is quick to offload their own accountability for plastic use to big companies and our governments. We blame large corporations for producing billions of tons of plastic a year, but who are the ones buying it? If we can afford to eliminate plastic from our lifestyle why haven’t we? We’ve seen our friends become wrapped up in the plastic-crimes of various corporations and countries: to be in their kitchen and see plastic bottles lined up across the counter. Only recently, straws were banned in parts of California and Seattle. While straws are accountable for .025% of the 8.3 billion tons in our oceans, legislation, manufactures and users were quick to adapt the paper straw, once they faced pressure from consumers. If consumers were to concentrate their power on something as devastating as plastic packaging, companies would face dwindling sales and negative PR; they’d have no choice but to react. We have the opportunity to escape the burden of single-use plastics for good. Let’s take it.


References:


Greenpeace: https://www.greenpeace.org/international/story/18876/these-10-companies-are-flooding-the-planet-with-throwaway-plastic/

Sagentia case study: https://www.packworld.com/article/package-type/containers/cardboard-can-soda


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