Solution to Plastic Pollution Isn't a 'Sexy' One

'We need to just collect the trash,' says one resource economist
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted May 17, 2018 10:00 AM CDT
Our Plastic Problem Is Likely Worse Than You Think
The Pasig River in the Philippines is polluted with plastic, and much of it enters the ocean.   (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

You want big picture? National Geographic provides it on the issue of plastic choking the world's waterways. Invented in the late 19th century, plastic didn't truly take off in terms of production until around 1950, when scientists began making it out of petroleum in earnest. Now, we have 9.2 billion tons of it on the planet, of which 6.9 billion tons are waste. The real problem? The vast majority of that waste—6.3 billion tons—has not made it into recycling bins. Instead, much of it is in our oceans and waterways, often broken down in hard-to-see smaller particles. One alarming stat in the story is that on some beaches in Hawaii, about 15% of what appears to be sand is actually tiny grains of microplastic. You want small picture? The story includes an incredible photo of a seahorse clinging to a plastic cotton swab as it rides the current off Indonesia.

The problem is about more than aesthetics. "I don't think we should be waiting for a key finding of whether or not fish are hazardous to eat," says one researcher. "We have enough evidence to act." That will take a global initiative, however. By one estimate, about half of improperly discarded plastic comes from the five Asian nations of China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Sri Lanka. So what to do? A shift to more biodegradable products would help, along with a rethinking of the cost-benefits of plastics use, and, crucially, better recycling. "Everyone wants a sexy answer," says one economist. "The reality is, we need to just collect the trash." He floats the idea of a tax of one penny for every pound of plastic resin made, with proceeds used to improve garbage collection in developing nations. Read the full story. (This plastic bag was found in a depressing spot.)

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