The Solving Plastic Issue
Beloved YES! Readers, we all know by now that we’ve been lied to about the effectiveness of recycling plastic. In the past 70 years, more than 8 billion metric tons of plastic have been manufactured. Only 9% of that has been recycled. The mounds of mostly plastic waste on beaches and streets of primarily poor countries around the world are evidence that recycling is not the way to solve our plastic problem.
Why? Because recycling was created as a way for corporations to shirk responsibility for the full lifecycle of their petrochemical products. That’s right: Oil companies knew they were selling us a bill of goods. Not only that, but they’ve convinced us it’s our fault.
Well, it’s not. The plastic problem goes well beyond the mass production of single-use convenience items like shopping bags, water bottles, packaging, and straws—whether or not we recycle them. Plastic particles are everywhere now, including, for many of us, in the air we breathe and the water we drink. We’re not calling for the elimination of all plastics—durable plastics serve many critical functions in our lives. But the toxins from plastic production and disposal are harming the most vulnerable populations of our communities on a global scale.
The simple solution is to drastically scale back on single-use plastic. But that’s going to be a heavy lift since oil companies are investing big in petrochemical plants. Plastic production is expected to double in the next 20 years. And even if we were to stop the flow of petrochemical products, what do we do with the billions of tons of plastic waste already here?
It’s going to take multiple solutions on many levels, especially as we work to build an ecological civilization as described in our spring issue, “What an Ecological Civilization Looks Like.”
In this issue we explore the history of plastic, its global impacts, and some of the most inspiring solutions we’ve come across. You’ll read about why plastic-shaming doesn’t work and where the zero-waste lifestyle falls short; who gets left behind when we try to go plastic-free and how to keep equity at the forefront of our movements as we propose and advocate for solutions. There is a takedown of the carbon footprint in infographic form and a guide to choosing what to wear. Plus, we feature a roundup of three communities around the world that have come up with creative ways to repurpose the plastic waste around them.
Together, we can shape the future of plastic to be more just, judicious, equitable, and sustainable!
Zenobia Jeffries Warfield, YES! executive editor
Breanna Draxler, YES! environmental editor