A concerted effort is underway to reduce the amount of plastic packaging produced around the world. Government leaders from a variety of countries are working on plans to ban certain kinds of plastics. Here in the U.S., states are beginning to pass laws requiring product manufacturers to cover the cost of plastic package recovery and recycling. But buyer beware – reducing plastic packaging will not be without cost.
It is all well and good to eliminate plastic packaging. It’s fine to outlaw plastic grocery bags and drinking straws. But getting rid of plastic doesn’t mean the end to grocery bags and drinking straws. It only means that manufacturers have to use other materials. That is where the cost comes in.
China Takes the Lead
China decided a few years back that it was no longer going to be the world’s dumping ground for plastic waste. Now they’ve taken things one step further by attacking their own plastic problem. Over the next four years, the Chinese government will bring an end to plastic shopping bags. They will ban plastic microbeads for use in personal care products.
Chinese leaders want to see a greater effort put into increasing the nation’s plastic recycling rate, which currently sits at about 30%. They have additional plans to force manufacturers to use biodegradable plastics as well as wood, paper, and bamboo in their packaging. Do you see where all of this is going?
The chances of China seriously improving recycling rates are pretty slim. In the government’s eyes, the real key to the success of its four-year plan is to replace plastic packaging with new packaging made from biodegradable materials. That is all well and good for now. But what happens when people start complaining about companies cutting down trees and using up valuable food resources to create bioplastics?
Packaging Isn’t the Enemy
Banning plastic straws keeps them out of lakes and streams. Fair enough. But to make paper straws, you have to cut down trees. So which advocacy group do you satisfy? And what if you have an advocacy group that supports both saving trees and reducing plastic waste?
The difficulty with these types of discussions is getting to the root of the problem. Plastic is not the enemy. Plastic packages are not inherently evil. A plastic food package that winds up in the ocean didn’t get there by itself. It didn’t stand up, walk across the beach, and go for a swim.
Waterways are polluted because people are too lazy to use garbage cans. Likewise, single-use food containers exist because Americans want cheap consumer goods. Manufacturers are merely giving us what we want.
Changing the Way We Do Things
We can solve whatever plastic problem we might have by changing the way we do things. It starts with consumers making a commitment to waste less. We generate the waste we throw out. Likewise, we can generate less waste.
In the commercial arena, manufacturers can change how they create their packaging. They can work together to come up with some standards that make consumer recycling as efficient and cost-effective as commercial recycling. And yes, commercial plastic recycling works. Just ask Tennessee-based Seraphim Plastics, a company that does very well recycling plastic waste.
We can work hard to eliminate all unnecessary plastic from society. But doing so will not come without a cost. If we aren’t willing to pay the price, we might want to step back and see if there are things that we can do to keep using plastic while recycling more of it so that it doesn’t end up polluting the planet.