The pros and cons debate in terms of single use consumer plastic rages on relentlessly and has been the case for the last ten years at least. As yet there is still no real, compelling and irrefutable argument for whichever side of the fence you choose to sit. Those with a general passing concern with pollution, the extremists who fight tirelessly for a completely plastic free environment and the plastic manufacturers who’s view could be misinterpreted by cynics as being somewhat self serving.
In this article we take a controversial position with regard to the much discussed potential banning of single use general purpose consumer plastics. We will review 5 contentious issues that support the argument not to ban plastics which will, it is maintained, may well actually harm the environment.
We look at five thought provoking reasons why the banning of consumer plastics would divert attention away from the implementation of real solutions and the fact that reusable plastic could actually have a detrimental impact on both consumers and the environment in general:
- Most of the planets plastic waste does not derive from consumer use. The primary culprit of ocean pollution is not straws, cups and plastic bags. In fact 52% of all oceanic pollution is made up of fishing nets, ropes and lines discarded by large scale and often unsupervised fishing fleets. The remainder ranges from plastic crates, bottle caps and small fragments called microplastics. Clearly then, in essence not a consumer waste issue. The outcry however results in the bigger and more accountable reason being overlooked.
- Poor disposal practices in China and 11 other Asian countries account for almost 80% of the plastic waste entering global waters. Littering, disposed waste as well as uncontrolled and badly supervised landfills, compound the problem. In 2017 an Environmental Sciences and Technology study reported that up to 95% of all plastic consumer waste enters the oceans from 10 rivers, 8 in Asia and 2 in Africa.
- Plastic items are quite simply more sanitary than their reusable alternatives. Reusable bags very often harbor bacteria that may well pose a health risk for shoppers and consumers. Plastic packaging also reduces food waste and makes for easy transportation and the presentation of food in a way that reduces significantly the potential transmission of diseases.
- In many ways, and we could debate this for hours, plastics are actually better for the environment than the alternatives. They are more efficient and use a lot less energy during both the production and transportation/distribution elements of the supply chain. Plastic consumer goods such as straws, foam cups and utensils are less energy intensive to produce compared to paper and aluminum for example. The production of these items takes more resources, creates more waste and results in more pollution when compared to manufacturing of the disposable options. It is a fact that resusable items such as straws and plastic bags would need to be reused 100 times and foam cups a staggering 1000 times to justify and offset the energy used to manufacture them.
- As well as being more sanitary and efficient, plastic consumer products are also much less expensive to produce than their reusable counterparts. Because they are cheaper to make they are less expensive for consumers globally to buy. Banning these items would simply increase manufacturing costs which would in turn be passed on to the shopper.
So, the bottom line here, on this side of the argument is that whilst single use plastic consumer items such as bags, cups, straws and whatever else is deemed as great material for political grandstanding during electionaring, they serve only to divert attention away from developing real and sustainable solutions that actually address and tackle the real causes of plastic pollution.