Of course, the issue of climate change has an urgency that overshadows the issue of pollution. But I have been reading and hearing more about the peril of plastic and understand that addressing our dependence on plastic has benefits for all of it: climate change, air pollution, land, and water pollution.
A time to reflect on the impact we are having on our natural environment and – as the host of all life – how much our environment needs to be centered in our thoughts and actions.
Remember five years ago when container loads of plastic scrap from Canada was turned away by the Philippines? The container loads sat on the docks until Canada took it back. The Freight Forwarding industry was indirectly implicated in this social issue but became an active part in addressing the issue by applying new government rules and regulations to stop the practice. This really linked how the ethics of our business decisions have real world effects.
Fossil fuels are a significant component of new plastic. Fossil fuel extraction, processing and plastic production contributes to the accumulation of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere and changes our climate.
Millions of tons a year, only less than 10% of the plastic we create is recycled.
In its material state, we have a big problem getting rid of plastic. There is a variety of reasons for this - it does not make it back to recycling facilities, or there are no buyers for the recycled materials, or (mostly likely) its components are not pure enough to recycle. We should keep recycling, of course, but ultimately the answer has to be a drastic reduction of our dependence on the stuff.
Unrecycled plastic waste becomes pollution. We have all seen pictures of the football field-sized garbage patch in the middle of the ocean and read about the microplastics found in the bodies of fish that are ending up on our plates.
Related to the ship stranded off the coast of the Philippines, we now know of the mountains of first world plastic waste many wealthy countries sent to poorer countries. It was a cheap way to meet reduce domestic landfill. For developing countries taking in the garbage, it was a significant source of income (BBC News June 2019). To address the sheer volume, some took to burning the plastic – creating toxic air pollution that causes respiratory and other diseases. Not good.
If it were not for the pollution and GHGs, I am sure we would all still love the properties and conveniences plastic offers. A topical example -- think of the necessary tons of disposable plastic coverings needed to keep sterile all the plastic paraphernalia for COVID tests and vaccinations. We do not have ways to alter all our dependencies on plastic just yet – but I am confident we will in time.
I still want to do my part.
On this Earth Day, I pledge to choose plastic-free and plastic-reduced options wherever I have the power to do so. The easiest things I can do right away are refusing single use plastics like plastic bags at grocery stores, drink bottles, coffee cups and their lids, and straws. And I will be bringing this sensibility into our workplace to influence the habits of our team.
I invite you to join me.