Do you feel bad when you see pictures of plastic waste in the world's oceans? Most certainly, and any decent human being would. In fact, governments fail to do enough to stop the dumping of plastic waste into the environment and are still inefficient at holding companies to account for these ecological disasters.
That said, the solution of many environmental campaigners – banning all plastic items and packaging – is misguided.
A new report by Greenpeace outlines that a large section of plastic waste in the United States is not recycled and pairs this with its advocacy for banning single-use plastic items. In fact, campaigners have argued for the General Services Administration (GSA) to cease all acquisition of single-use plastic items.
This ignores the fact that we need plastic for many things: ranging from medical equipment to cleaning gear, from packaging to extend shelf-life to containers to keep our food intact for delivery. Neither the federal government nor individual consumers can afford to phase out plastic.
That said, we shouldn't preserve plastic for plastics' sake (even if it is associated with countless jobs). In fact, all too often, plastics outperform their substitute products in efficiency and environmental impact — as anyone who has tried to use a single-use paper bag in the rain can attest to.
As I've outlined for Newsmax before, single-use plastic shopping bags outperform all its alternatives when it comes to the environment, not least because cotton or paper bags are not reused as often as they should be, but also because consumers reuse plastic bags as an alternative to bin liners.
If we were to abandon plastic packaging, we would reduce the shelf-life of groceries and eliminate ready-made meals that consumers want. This would increase food waste. Since food production has a carbon footprint far higher than plastic packaging, this move would be counterproductive.
Let's also not forget that about 11% of ocean plastic pollution results from microplastics, and 75%-86% of plastic in the Pacific Ocean garbage patch comes directly from offshore fishing, not consumer products. Not all waste is littered, and the same applies to plastic waste; it is thus misleading for activists to unfairly amalgamate both aspects of plastic waste disposal.
Of Americans living in cities with a population of over 125,000, 90% already have access to recycling facilities for single-use plastic items. What the United States needs is even more access to these facilities and the boosting of advanced recycling, which not just washes and compounds polymers, but dissolves plastics into their original compounds.
This aspect of the circular economy will make plastics a more sustainable consumer good. On top of the existing recycling rate, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has the specific goal of increasing the recycling rate to 50% by 2030.
Any rule or regulation that restricts the choices of consumers is bad. However, it somehow is even worse when the suggested rule does not even achieve the results it intended. Banning plastics would not just deprive us of products we need but also increase our carbon footprint in many sectors.
Bill Wirtz is the senior policy analyst at the Consumer Choice Center, focusing on new technology, agriculture, trade and lifestyle regulations. He recently published "No Copy-paste: What not to Emulate from Europe's Agriculture Regulations." Read Bill Wirtz's Reports — More Here.
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