How to Clean Up Our Universal Plastic Tragedy
By Tony Robert Walker
Twenty five years ago, I spent a summer removing plastic packing bands and plastic nets from 135 entangled Antarctic fur seals on Bird Island, South Georgia in the sub-Antarctic. Plastic marine waste discarded by the fishing industry were the primary source of entanglements.
A quarter of a century later, plastic is still a huge problem. In the past month alone, we have seen dead whales wash ashore with their stomachs full of plastic bags.
This ought to be a strong enough signal to trigger collective action to clean up and improve governance of the plastics that have become this century's Tragedy of the Commons.
Governments and individuals all need to reconsider how we use and dispose of our single-use plastics (SUPs). Within just two generations we have produced and discarded so much plastic that we are now literally drowning in it.
Recently, a former colleague in Newfoundland was so fed up at staring at a pile of garbage dumped on nearby public property that she took it upon herself to clean it up. The result was almost a truckload of trash comprising five full garbage bags and other miscellaneous pieces, most of it SUPs.
We all use SUPs, not just those countries with the largest populations, and so we are all are culpable in contributing to global plastic pollution.
Until recently, China was the world's largest importer of recyclable materials (including plastics) from developed countries, such as Canada, the U.S. and European countries. But these imports have since been banned.
This has left many developed countries scrambling to figure out how to recycle or dispose of their SUPs, with many jurisdictions (from municipalities to entire countries) considering bans or fees on SUP bags.
Recently, Prince Edward Island took the big step to announce new legislation to make it the first province to ban SUP shopping bags. Seattle is the first major U.S. city to ban the use of plastic drinking straws.
Canada is planning to adopt a zero-waste strategy, and we recently heard more about these details in the non-binding G7 Ocean Plastics Charter, which was agreed to by five of the seven participating nations and the European Union (EU). However, neither the U.S. nor Japan signed the voluntary agreement.
National and international organizations have also made recent announcements about how to reduce and improve recycling, but all have committed to widely varying timelines to achieve these goals.
For example, the United Nations Environment Programme (with support from 42 governments), declared a fight against plastics, announcing their global Clean Seas campaign in 2017 to eliminate major sources of marine debris by 2022.
The following year, the European Commission (EC) adopted the first Europe-wide strategy on plastics, aiming for all plastic packaging in the EU to be reusable or recyclable—but not until 2030.
Lagging behind the international community, the United Kingdom announced it will eliminate "avoidable" plastic waste by 2042—almost a generation away!
Corporations Lead the Way
With governments setting unambitious targets, it seems that large corporations are now showing leadership by listening to consumers who are demanding fewer SUPs in their packing and food containers.
Recently, McDonald's announced that it would replace plastic straws with paper ones in all of its U.K. and Ireland restaurants, as of September 2018. This strategy may soon be rolled out in other jurisdictions. IKEA has also committed to eliminating all SUP products from its home furnishing range by 2020, including plastic straws, plates, cups, freezer bags, garbage bags and plastic-coated paper plates and cups.
Why has it taken so long to tackle this wicked problem?
Sure, the plastics industry has something to lose, and maybe governments also lack the will and technology to make the transition sooner?
But time is running out.
I'm just glad that the Romans invented viaducts and straight roads instead of SUPs, as we likely wouldn't be here today if they had. Giving up a plastic straw, stirrer or bag might not be so bad after all.
If I have to choose between "Planet or Plastic," I know which I'll pick. What about you?
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Conversation.
1. Kiss the Ground<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ccc5f0c92a5603e68aec39e56b0db02a"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/K3-V1j-zMZw?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p><strong>Streaming On: Netflix</strong></p><p><strong>Premiere Date: Sept. 22</strong></p><p>Between <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/wildfires-california-washington-oregon-photos-2647585008.html" target="_self">wildfires devastating the U.S. West Coast</a> and <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tropical-storm-beta-landfall-2647760268.html" target="_self">storms battering the Gulf</a>, the impacts of the <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/climate-change/" target="_self">climate crisis</a> can feel overwhelming right now. <em><a href="https://kissthegroundmovie.com/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Kiss the Ground</a> </em>offers an alternative to all of the bad news by focusing on solutions.</p><p>The film, directed by Josh and Rebecca Tickell and narrated by Woody Harrelson, explains how we can heal the Earth through "regenerative agriculture," farming practices that draw carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and into soil as a way to restore soil health, which in turn boosts ecosystems and food supplies.</p><p>"<em>Kiss the Ground </em>shows how feasible it is to make these changes at a grassroots level immediately and make a truly substantive impact with low cost and easy to implement solutions," Executive Producer RJ Jain said in an email. "This is why I got involved."</p>
2. Public Trust: The Fight for America's Public Lands<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5338f7a2931e356910026e5fd76fac56"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/jsKMTAaj_wQ?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p><strong>Streaming On: YouTube</strong></p><p><strong>Premiere Date: Sept. 25, 2 p.m. EDT </strong></p><p>This <a href="https://www.patagonia.com/films/public-trust/" target="_blank">award-winning documentary</a> tells the stories of Indigenous activists, journalists, whistleblowers and historians working to protect America's <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/public-lands" target="_self">public lands</a>. The film focuses on three political struggles: the shrinking of <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/bears-ears" target="_self">Bears Ears</a> National Monument in Utah, the mining of Boundary Waters Wilderness in Minnesota and the opening of the <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/Arctic-National-Wildlife-Refuge" target="_self">Arctic National Wildlife Refuge</a> to fossil fuel exploration.</p><p><em>Public Trust</em> was directed by David Garrett Byars and produced by Jeremy Rubingh. Patagonia Films, Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard and actor Robert Redford are executive producers. It will be <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OGjnIG7puzY" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">released</a> on YouTube in time for <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/national-public-lands-day-2640656776.html" target="_self">National Public Lands Day</a>.</p><p>"Our country is fortunate to have millions of acres of public lands, including National Parks, Monuments, Wildlife Refuges and Wilderness set aside for future generations," Redford said. "Sadly, these lands that belong to you and me are under unprecedented threats from the greed of big corporations, eager to weaken restrictions in the pursuit of profits. Many of our current politicians are also to blame. <em>Public Trust</em> tells the story of citizens who are fighting back. It's a much-needed wake-up call for all of us who want to preserve our unique and wild cultural heritage."</p>
3. David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="156438a30836a765d7a92982545fc334"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/B_OFZvAd05Y?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p><strong>Streaming On: Netflix</strong></p><p><strong>Premiere Date: Oct. 4</strong></p><p>Beloved nature broadcaster <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/David-Attenborough" target="_self">David Attenborough</a> has spent his career introducing viewers to the wonders of our planet. In recent years, his footage of albatrosses swallowing <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/plastics" target="_self">plastic</a> in <em>Blue Planet II</em> has been credited with <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/2018-fighting-plastic-waste-2624606566.html" target="_self">helping to ramp up</a> the global fight against plastic pollution. Now, in this <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">World Wildlife Fund</a> (WWF)-produced <a href="https://www.attenborough.film/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">documentary</a>, he reflects on the defining moments of his career and the devastating changes he has witnessed.</p><p><em>David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet,</em> which was also produced by Silverback Films and directed by Alastair Fothergill, Jonnie Hughes and Keith Scholey, features an intimate conversation between Attenborough and Sir Michael Palin as the broadcaster reflects on his life and a career that took him to every continent on Earth. In addition to streaming on Netflix, the movie will be available in select theaters starting Sept. 28.</p><p>"For decades, David has brought the natural world to the homes of audiences worldwide, but there has never been a more significant moment for him to share his own story and reflections," WWF executive producer Colin Butfield said in a <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/updates/david-attenborough-life-our-planet" target="_blank">statement</a>. "This film coincides with a monumental year for environmental action as world leaders make critical decisions on nature and climate. It sends a powerful message from the most inspiring and celebrated naturalist of our time."</p>
- Sir David Attenborough Set to Present BBC Documentary on ... ›
- 7 of the Best New Documentaries About Global Warming - EcoWatch ›
- Movies to Watch This Earth Day: EcoWatch Staff Picks - EcoWatch ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
- Employees Are Fighting for Climate Change at Work - EcoWatch ›
- Amazon's Carbon Footprint Rises 15% as Company Invests $2 ... ›
- Jeff Bezos Pledges $10 Billion to Fight the Climate Crisis - EcoWatch ›
- Budweiser Re-Labels As Climate-Friendly Beer - EcoWatch ›
- Democratic Bill Banning Toxic Pesticides Applauded as 'Much ... ›
- Trump EPA Won't Regulate Toxic Drinking Water Chemical That ... ›
- California, Nation's Top User of Chlorpyrifos, Announces Ban on ... ›
- Wheeler's EPA Keeps Brain-Damaging Chlorpyrifos in Food ›
- Entire Pesticide Class Must Be Banned to Save Children's Health ... ›
By Maria Trimarchi and Sarah Gleim
- Think Today's Refugee Crisis is Bad? Climate Change Will Make it a ... ›
- Climate Change Forces 20 Million People to Flee Each Year, Oxfam ... ›
- Meet the World's First Climate Refugees - EcoWatch ›
- You're Not So Different From an Octopus: Rethinking Our ... ›
- 'Eating Animals' Drives Home Where Our Food Really Comes From ... ›