By this time, most people know that plastic is an issue and even dangerous in some ways when it comes to the environment, marine and wildlife and even humans in some cases.
Governments are also starting to acknowledge the danger of plastics by encouraging plastic alternatives, recycling and composting in some areas as well as introducing plastic bag taxes or single-use plastic bans. Some are also providing incentives for businesses to transition to plastic alternatives.
Why Do Scientists Think Plastic Is Dangerous?
There are many reasons that plastic is being labeled dangerous or toxic – this includes environmental but also the dangers to wildlife and humans. When it comes to plastic, some plastics are worse than others. Single-use plastic for example, is one of the worst plastics. Some of the reasons include:
- Plastic can take anywhere from 20 to 500 years to decompose or break down in any environment, including landfill.
- When plastic decomposes, it breaks down into small pieces that may not be visible to the naked eye, however, these small pieces of plastic will never fully decompose and will potentially contaminate water, soil and air.
- Plastic can harm wildlife as they can get caught up in plastic – on land and in the ocean – or they can consume small pieces of plastic which will kill them either via choking or other health consequences or injury.
- The manufacturing process of plastic uses high amounts of electricity and water, while releasing large amounts of greenhouse gasses.
- Plastic products have been found to be toxic to humans. This is due to the chemicals added to plastics and then absorbed by humans, such as from water or other bottles. Microplastics entering the human body through ingestion or inhalation can also be toxic.
- There have also been studies shown that certain chemicals found in plastic can leach out of the plastic and into food and beverages. This has been linked to health problems such as reduced fertility, cancers or metabolic disorders.
Why Is The Government Not Taking Vast Action?
So many people across the world are contributing to the plastic problem, yet, we see that change flows from the top levels of society – the Government in any country or region. Governments really need to mandate penalties or restrictions on producing single-use plastics and incentivize the manufacturing and use of eco-friendly alternatives. Following this, manufacturers and consumers will follow.
Right now, some governments ARE taking action, but it’s difficult as this action takes regulation and legislation, which can be slow. There also needs to be alternatives available, recycling or composting programs in cities etc.
Which Governments Are Taking Action?
As governments around the world became more and more aware of the negative impact plastic bags such as those you carry your shopping in were having on the environment, action was taken across the world to reduce the footprint.
The first introduction of a formal plastic bag tax was in Ireland, when the Irish Government introduced a 0.15 EUR environmental levy on plastic bags at point of sale. The goal being to encourage alternatives, reduce use of single-use plastic bags and thus reduce environmental impact.
Since then, many countries around the world have followed suit – mostly the USA, Africa and Europe. It’s been the developing countries most interested in outright banning certain types of plastic bags as they tend to have much worse pollution problems, particularly when it comes to plastic waste.
In 2021, it was estimated that around 32 countries had introduced a tax or fee to limit plastic bag use, and much of these were located in Europe. As mentioned, developing countries such as Africa have also been early adopters of this levy.
Exceptions currently include Italy, Austria and France, with Germany banning certain types of plastic bags in favor of compostable bags from this year (2022). This trend of switching out traditional plastic for compostable is also popular in other countries.
Many States across the United States have implemented or are planning to implement a plastic bag ban to reduce the amount of single-use plastics that end up in landfill and encourage consumers to consider reusable or bioplastics in their place.
China has a plastic bag ban and has had since 2008 while introducing a fee for the sturdier bags. In 2022, China decided to ban all non-compostable bags for the entire country by 2022.
Who Else Is Taking Action?
Companies and consumers are some others taking action, for example, three large companies – Nestle, Unilever and Dell – are doing their part to reduce their plastic pollution by pledging to move toward 100 per cent recyclable plastic packaging.
NGOs are also making a change and encouraging others to do so. These organizations are mostly focused on reducing plastic usage and waste.
What Are NGOs Doing?
Across the world, NGOs are taking action against plastic by doing several things:
- Encouraging reduction in plastic use
- Advocating for legislative change
- Encouraging people to use alternative plastic options
- Educating people about the dangers of plastic
- Advocating for composting and better waste management.
Many of the larger NGOs also focus on giving back to the environment and oceans through large-scale clean up projects. For example, the World Bank administers the Problue program which supports sustainable and integrated development of marine and coastal resources through multiple donors.
Should We Join With NGOs?
We should support anyone with a clear mission and transparent fund usage who is looking to reduce plastic waste across the world. We can also take our own steps such as composting, switching to alternative plastics, upcycling and recycling plastics.