Single-use plastics are designed to be used only once and discarded, often with little thought. Cheap and durable, they’ve found their way into almost every supermarket shelf, department store, and American household, perpetuating the unsustainable consumerist mentality many share today. Serving their purpose for only a few days, or maybe even an hour, single-use plastics can persist in the environment for hundreds or even thousands of years, producing a variety of environmental and health concerns.
In addressing the issues surrounding single-use plastics, many governments around the country have taken small but crucial steps towards ending their use. On July 1, 2018, Seattle became the first U.S. city to ban the use of plastic straws, stir sticks, and utensils for vendors in the municipality. (Straws made of compost-able paper or plastic are still allowed.)” Jumping on board, San Francisco’s ban on plastic straws will take effect July 2019, and the New York City Council announced legislation to ban plastic straws by 2020.
Taking even greater measures, after discovering that plastics make up more than 80% of marine litter, the European Union has approved a law which bans a wide-range of single-use plastics including straws, cotton buds, and cutlery by 2021. And a couple days ago, on July 9, 2019, the Canadian government under Trudeau also announced a ban on single-use plastics by 2021, drawing inspiration from the European Union.
While government policy and intervention will remain a critical method for tackling environmental issues, we as consumers also have the power to affect change. Simple measures like keeping reusable bags inside cars, purchasing cereals from bulk bins, and bringing your own take-out containers to restaurants, can reduce and challenge our society’s comfort in utilizing single-use plastics. Entrepreneurs have also taken up the fight against plastics, with services providing beauty products in bar-form and refillable containers, and other companies selling reusable straws, compost-able cutlery, and biodegradable diapers.
Setting an example for college campuses around the country, a proposed UC Berkeley initiative by a multidisciplinary team of three graduate students tackle single-use items on campus. RePeel, a reusable food container service, allows university dining areas to serve their food and drink in metal, leak-proof to-go containers. Available for drop off at designated areas around campus once finished, Berkeley students will be able to dine free of environmental guilt.
As college campuses are themselves a microcosm of society–supplying the dietary necessities of most, if not all students–universities set an example for their pupils, as the young individuals submerge themselves within the university’s structured ecosystem.
There are still many steps we must take to end our society’s obsession with single-use plastics. But with the necessary policy measures, consumer behavior, and shift in societal views, our planet will be cleaner, safer, and healthier for generations to come.
Interested in reducing your one-time plastic use and purchasing a reusable water bottle? Check out Frank Green, an Australian bottle brand “made for the environment, designed for humanity” at https://us.frankgreen.com/.
More Tips to Reduce Single-Use Plastics: