The Single-Use Plastic Waste Crisis Facing the Planet – Is There a Solution?

NEW YORK - One of the biggest problems currently facing the delicate ecosystem of our planet is the production and the use of single-use plastic. 

The member nations of the UN environmental assembly has been pushing in recent years to phase out single-use plastic worldwide, and a recent agreement reached is going some way to eventually achieving that goal. By 2030, many UN member nations have agreed to “significantly reduce” the amount of single-use plastics they produce/dispose of via a variety of methods, including advances pertaining to waste management, the adoption of more environmentally-sound plastic alternatives, and an overall reduction of the use of plastic on a global scale.

However, the agreement – however well-intentioned – is not legally-binding in any way; the member nations who are partaking in it are under no ironclad obligation to do so, but instead are on an “honor system” of sorts. Due to this fact, the long-term effectiveness of the UN environmental assembly agreement is up in the air.

MARPOL, an international treaty signed in 1988 that bans ships from dumping plastic waste into ocean, is currently the only global-scale agreement that carries any true force, although recent studies now indicate that 80 percent of the 8 tons of plastic waste that ends up in the sea annually currently originates from land, not ships. Obviously – as is the case with technology and the internet – this is a case of the law desperately needing to up catch up with the times.

In light of these issues, there have been calls for a legally-binding international treaty that effectively deals with the modern aspects of pollution on a global scale, especially when it comes to the critical damage dealt to the environment as our planet finds itself relying every more and more on single-use plastics. In fact, marine scientists in 2017 noted that micro-plastics are capable of altering genes, cells, and tissues in marine organisms, resulting in death and decreased reproduction. Clearly, something needs to be done.

A ray of hope, however, comes in the prominence of marine plastic in this year’s UN environmental assembly conference after numerous delegates have voiced demands for real, substantial, and legally-binding action on the part of international lawmakers. Serious talks are expected to be held on solutions to the issue, both in terms of the reduction of plastic consumption and clean-up efforts to address the damage that has already been done worldwide.

Quite simply, its production of plastics that needs to be curtailed; essentially, we need less plastics. A U.S. State Department spokesman said in a statement that the U.S. considers marine plastic “a growing issue needing urgent action, and that improved waste management is the fastest way to achieve that goal. We support reducing the environmental impacts from the discharges of plastics…improved waste management could radically decrease these discharges.”

Clearly, improvements in worldwide waste management would be a huge factor in curbing the plastic waste issue; however, the UN estimates that only 40 percent of the global population currently lacks access to waste disposal systems. Couple that with the fact that the plastic industry has been churning out product at rates faster than ever in human history, with half the plastic on Earth having been made since 2005; astonishingly, that amount is expected to double in the next 20 years. $0 percent of that plastic is considered disposable, and is blamed by many for the current predicament that world’s oceans are facing.

To date, 127 countries have begun to regulate plastic bags, and 27 have banned certain types of single-use plastic, such as the types used in the creation of plates, straws, and cups. India has announced plans to outlaw all single-use plastics in their country by 2022, and England has legislation in the pipeline that will ban many types of single-use plastics by 2021 and significantly reduce others by 2028.

In fact, many members of the European Union are undertaking similar measures, making the collection of nations the planet’s leading crusaders in the plastic crisis. Hopefully, other nations will eventually follow their example, and together they can adopt sensible and realistic plastic reform laws that will eventually serve to undo all of the harm that has been inflicted upon the Earth by the rampant use of single-use plastics. Yes, the solution may end up causing some minor inconveniences for people who have come to rely upon plastic in their daily lives for a variety of uses, but the benefits – both to people and the planet that we all inhabit – are more than worth it.