When the statistics on plastic waste are analyzed, it is quite clear that recycling of plastics has mostly failed. The vast majority of this waste has been buried, burned or is polluting in the environment. The plastics industry has been a strong force behind plastic recycling. In the 1970s and 1980s, it encouraged American municipalities to initiate or expand plastic recycling programs to ensure a positive view of plastic materials. However, by the 1990s, much of the collected plastic was shipped overseas to lower income countries for sorting and processing. Since these countries have limited regulations for processing these waste materials, this has been viewed as environmental dumping by many who study the waste problem. An agreement was put in place to restrict limits on exports of plastic waste from richer countries to poorer ones, but trade data from two years ago shows that the US continues to ship much of its collected plastic overseas.
This past year, an international group (the High Ambition Coalition) initiated a legally-binding, global campaign to address the plastic problem. Signed by 50 nations, it is a “call for the establishment of an ambitious and effective international legally binding instrument to protect human health and the environment from plastic pollution with a view to end plastic pollution by 2040.” The United States is not part of this coalition. However, there are organizations and state/local governments around the US addressing plastic waste. These include awareness campaigns, bans on single use plastics and efforts for substitutes/reuse of materials. Also, the Break Free From Plastic movement in the US continues to build support.
A requirement for solving critical problems is increasing awareness. I will be talking about the life cycle of plastic materials and discussing the latest research on micro and nanoplastics on Monday, January 23rd at Valparaiso University at 6:00 PM CT. The presentation is also available via Zoom (Join Zoom Meeting: https://valpo-edu.zoom.us/j/82115051935?pwd=YTVsU1dUc0p0UU9PTm91ZXpIUzl1dz09). There are many useful resources concerning plastic waste. One is the Plastic Pollution Coalition (https://www.plasticpollutioncoalition.org/). We can work together for a healthier earth, to heal and protect Our Common Home, to show our youth we care.
Julie Peller, Ph.D., is an environmental chemist (Professor of Chemistry at Valparaiso University ). Julie has been writing a weekly column for the past ~6 years called the Green Junction and is helping to move the call of Laudato Si to action forward. Her Research Interests are advanced oxidation for aqueous solutions, water quality analyses, emerging contaminants, air quality analyses, Lake Michigan shoreline challenges (Cladophora, water, and sediment contaminants), and student and citizen participation in environmental work.