Simple plastic causes complicated problems

Catherine Monty, Distribution Reporter


Something as simple as plastic is used in almost every aspect of our lives. Durable, mold-able and strong plastic is found in thousands of products. Disposable syringes, tires and police vests are some just to name a few. In addition to medical reasons, technology or public safety, around 40 percent of other plastics are only used once before being tossed in the recycling, or to make matters worse, the trash. The one time plastics, straws, bottles and bags, are the plastics found in the ocean.

Although beneficial in many ways, plastic, a very simple and cheap product, has caused complicated and expensive problems to fix. It is estimated that anywhere from 1.15 million-2.7 million metric tons of plastic ends up in the ocean every year.

Environmentalist say that by the year 2050, the amount of plastic in the ocean can be expected to outweigh all the fish in the sea. When plastic is poorly handled after use, it often ends up in our oceans, breaking down into micro-plastics and eventually being digested by not only the animals in the water, but by humans on land as well.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle? 

The old phrase “Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle” is still relevant for single use plastics. Reduce the use of this type of plastics by just saying no to them. Use a reusable shopping bags, ask for no straw and use compostable plates, utensils and cups. Recycle by utilizing local recycling receptacles for disposing of bottles cans. Or better yet, reuse a metal bottle. Unfortunately, recycling is becoming outdated. It has become too expensive and China, plastic’s biggest importer, has banned buying the product.

Senior Rosie Braun, president of the animal rights club, said that she individually reduces plastic by doing things like using a reusable water bottle, not using plastic straws, bringing her own utensils if she goes somewhere where they use plastic ones, and bringing her own bag to put my stuff in when she goes shopping so she does not have to use the ones they give her.

“Recycling has been a lead generator for conversation, but I hear those dark secrets where it is not being recycled. It’s going to a landfill and might be separated there or not, or they may fall short in truly recycling it,” Danny Mishek, president of Self Eco, added. Self Eco is a compostable drinkware and cater ware product company in Stillwater, Minn.

Nationwide and Worldwide 

In the United States, citizens can find some plastics banned. Numerous cities in California, New Jersey, Washington, and Florida enacted laws to ban straws. Along with plastic straws, Styrofoam is another single use plastic that has legislative action taken against it. Cities, including Minneapolis, have outlawed the use of Styrofoam. Although both are considered helpful steps, there are always drawbacks. The straw ban has a negative impact on the disabled who need the flexibility of a bendable straw. Also, banning these cheap products is more expensive for smaller businesses.

“The big progressive cities like Seattle, Portland, Minneapolis, they’re looking at banning these, and I’m not a complete fan of just pure ban, I’m sure it makes sense, but unfortunately we’re not making our decisions ourselves that make vendors or restaurants offer those little things,” Mishek said.

“Some cities in the United States have banned plastic straws, and that’s fantastic, but it isn’t enough,” Braun added.

Third world countries are large contributors to the oceans plastic pollution issue. Due to poor infrastructure, conflicting policies, or lack thereof, plastics are easily mishandled and end up in the ocean. Ninety percent of plastic pollution in the ocean come from 10 rivers, eight in Asia and two in Africa. The rivers are all close to highly populated areas that lack systems for proper disposal of garbage, including plastic.

“The worst answer that I have heard is that the United States is not the biggest polluter. It is one big yard if you look at it from a planet standpoint. I think we need to develop more products in the United States that are compostable. And so even if they end up in the wrong hands and are not disposed of properly, we’re still not drilling for oil,” Mishek said.

“We can help supply funding and educate them on how to properly dispose of it. We can also help construct sites specifically for the recycling process,” added biology teacher Kathryn Pyka.

Solving with education

Education and teaching values or respect for the environment for our country must be the number one priority. As one keeps educating the public and alerting them of the problem, the easier it becomes to solve. With where the country is today, innovation in technology is what will save the planet and the people and animals living on it.

“Plastic is convenient and people are lazy. People know plastic is bad for the earth and people know they shouldn’t use it. That doesn’t stop them from using it because it isn’t negatively affecting them now. That’s why we need them to be educated on what could happen if they do not stop. It might even encourage them to create things that can help solve the issue,” Braun said. 

Pyka is worried about “needing to be educated on how to properly recycle” because not everything is eligible to actually be recycled.

Steps like Earth Day, banning straws and recycling are all good steps to solving this complicated issue, but the most effective way to save the oceans is to continue innovating and creating a product to replace plastic that is more environmentally friendly, just as Mishek has demonstrated through his company Self Eco.