Plastic, Our Oceans, & The Reality of Sustainability in America
Oceanic pollution is a global problem. Plastic pollution specifically, affects hundreds of marine and coastal species through ingestion, entanglement, and other dangers.
Though plastic enters the ocean via many different routes, proper disposal and use is something we can all do to keep it out of our waters. For some, proper use and disposal are the only actions that can be taken to make a difference through our waste management system. When we consider demographics, geography, economics, and supply chains and how the factors impact the price and availability of what we buy, purchasing more expensive products to keep plastic out of the storyline isn’t always an option.
According to a LendingClub report, at the start of 2022, 64% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, and 32% of the country’s workforce earn less than $15 an hour, based on an Oxfam America report. Along with the recent inflation, most people are unable to afford the luxury of buying items that aren’t made from plastic. At a base level, people need packaging that protects food from spoiling while still being able to pay for the necessities of life - like food. If plastic packaging helps to ensure that more people have access to the things many of us take for granted, then perhaps the absolute elimination of plastic is a bit short sighted.
People must always be able to purchase products that are affordable, and the choice of packaging is part of what creates affordability. Increasing costs further with more expensive packaging is going to impact people differently - some to the point where certain bread-basket items are harder to buy. While these statements might sound a little controversial – for most of the world, sustainability (based on pop culture’s definition) is a privilege.
Is sustainability only about conserving natural resources for the future? Is it about ensuring that people have access to resources now? Or is it both?
If it is both, then what can we do about plastic pollution so we aren’t harming our oceans while also depriving people of their needs?
With plastic being the only packaging option most people can readily afford, combating pollution in our oceans then requires a holistic approach to successfully addressing our consumer impacts. Instead of looking at plastic pollution as an inevitable byproduct of the things we make, we can begin to consider pollution as a result of design flaws that can be fixed. By taking this approach, we can push for better systems. Systems that benefit our planet and our people.
Threats to the environment are widespread, so it is important for individuals and industries to try to minimize the negative environmental impacts of our activities and waste when it comes to plastic.
This means keeping the benefits of plastic and eliminating the components that cause our earth a problem.
The bottom line?
We are all in this together. Socioeconomic disparities impact what and how we buy which is something that won’t be changed overnight, but it must be addressed. At the same time, we must challenge our leaders and brands to both implement recycling infrastructure and produce sustainable products in a way that leaves no one behind. When we step up together, we collectively play a part in ensuring that sustainable packaging is produced so plastic stays out of the oceans and part of the circular economy.