Editorial Roundup: Social pressure making impact on plastic use

Published 7:00 pm Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The problems associated with single-use plastics — things such as straws, plastic bags and one-use food containers — is more apparent to more people all the time.

One of the biggest problems is with the amount of plastic that ends up in the oceans, harming and killing sea animals, birds and coral reefs.

We produce 300 million tons of plastic every year, half of which is for single use. More than 8 million tons of plastic is dumped into our oceans every year.

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While some cities and states around the country have instituted bans on plastic bags or plastic straws, many countries have been more proactive. Britain several years ago instituted a policy where shoppers have to pay extra if they want plastic bags.

The journal Science of the Total Environment recently published an article about a scientific study showing about a 30 percent drop in plastic bags found in the ocean around Britain. The big improvement is prompting a push for similar policies to be instituted across Europe.

Critics of government interventions note that paper or cloth shopping bags or paper straws often have a larger carbon footprint to make. That’s true, but the higher carbon footprint compared to the reduction of ocean pollution and landfill space used by plastic that won’t degrade for hundreds or thousands of years is a good trade-off.

And like many things, once something is unavailable the marketplace is adept at finding replacements that become ever more economical and environmentally friendly to make. Remember the uproar from some when inefficient incandescent light bulbs were under attack? They argued there would be no alternative that would be cheap and effective. Today LED lights are getting even cheaper and lasting even longer.

While governments may increasingly be unable to act on much of anything these days, people are making more of an impact on their own.

Social pressure to move away from single-use plastics is beginning to have an effect.

Starbucks announced this week that it will ban plastic straws from all of its stores globally in less than two years. That will mean 1 billion fewer plastic straws each year. McDonald’s is moving away from plastic straws, albeit at a slower pace than Starbucks.

Meanwhile researchers and manufacturers are making quick progress in finding alternatives, including straws very similar to plastic but that are biodegradable.

Consumer pressure will continue to make improvements on more sustainable products.

Finding alternatives to single-use plastics is good for our world, which is good for everyone.

— Mankato Free Press, July 9

About Editorial Roundup

Editorials from newspapers around the state of Minnesota.

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