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Fighting Plastic Pollution: Changing Habits Over Straws

Updated: Sep 2

Jiwoo Jeong

Plastic bags are the villains of the 21st century. The issue of plastic pollution strikes at the public’s moral code as heartbreaking images of animals suffering from plastic waste are circulated in the media. As global citizens become increasingly aware of their carbon footprint and the consequences of consumerism, they have begun to scrutinize how manufacturers use plastic.

Ironically, plastic bags were invented with the environment in mind: they were intended to be the alternative to paper bags, which are products of deforestation (Weston). The longevity of plastic bags was intentional, allowing them to be reused (Weston). This hypothetically would have allowed the replacement of single-use paper bags with reusable plastic bags to mitigate environmental burden (Weston). However, as with many new innovations, its usage was exploited for convenience. Safeway and Kroger replaced paper bags for plastic in 1982 with the rest of the world following suit (Weston). Thus, the world became littered with single-use and non-biodegradable waste, and appreciation for immediate convenience eclipsed future repercussions. And so, what seemed to be a distant future of plastic bag landfills became a reality.

Plastic bags are the epitome of what goes wrong when something is taken for granted. Statistics regarding plastic bags are shocking, suggesting how misused they are. Some of these include: “40 percent of plastic produced is packaging, used just once and then discarded” and “shoppers in the United States use almost one [plastic bag] per resident per day” (Parker). Plastic bags are an invention that seem so disposable yet are so immortal.

Unfortunately, society seems to be back at square one with the resurgence of paper packaging. The lesser of two evils in terms of which one is more environmentally friendly differs in pre- and post-production, with plastic bags having the upper-hand in the former and paper bags in the latter (“Plastic Pollution: How Plastic Bags Could Help Save the Planet.”). Therefore, although the public seems to be under the impression that using biodegradable material equates to being more environmentally conscious, they are unaware of how much more strain is put on the environment to produce paper bags. What seems to be a rather obvious solution to this predicament is to stop feeding the production cycle by making a habit of reusing pre-existing bags (“Plastic Pollution: How Plastic Bags Could Help Save the Planet.”). This sentiment has been integrated into society in the form of the “Zero Waste” movement. Through this movement, participants contribute to reducing plastic waste as a whole by bringing their reusable tumblers and straws to local coffee shops, as an example.

Although shops are trying to find better alternatives, each option seems to be a double-edged sword. Some would say that paper straws in response to plastic straws are “a greener option, but not a green one” (Lowrey) because in the end, they are both “single-use, disposable consumer item[s]” (Lowrey). It’s become second nature to us that a drink should be enjoyed by a straw and that produce from the grocery store should be encased in a transparent plastic bag. Rather than trying to find better choices, it would be best to change consumerism habits directly.


References


Lowrey, Annie. “The Case Against Paper Straws.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 20 Aug. 2019,

www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/08/paper-straws-wont-stop-climate-change/596302/.

Parker, Laura, and Jason Treat. “Fast Facts about Plastic Pollution.” National Geographic, 20 Dec. 2018, www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2018/05/plastics-facts-infographics-ocean-pollution/.

“Plastic Pollution: How Plastic Bags Could Help Save the Planet.” BBC News, BBC, 16 Oct. 2019,

www.bbc.com/news/av/science-environment-50043369/plastic-pollution-how-plastic-bags-could-help-save-the-planet.

Weston, Phoebe. “Plastic Bags Were Created to Save the Planet, According to Son of Engineer Who First Created Them.” The Independent, Independent Digital News and Media, 17 Oct. 2019, www.independent.co.uk/environment/plastic-bags-pollution-paper-cotton-tote-bags-environment-a9159731.html.


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