Lessons on Responsibility: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch
In the 1980’s there was the discovery of what is so aptly named the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”. It resides in the Northern Pacific Ocean and today, it has grown to be 3x the size of France. However, this is not the only “trash island” in existence. With growing garbage patches in the oceans, there are also an increasing number of reports of marine animals washing ashore with stomachs full of plastic. This has raised serious concerns about the amount of plastic that consumers use on a daily basis and then, how those plastics are being disposed. Mike Ives from the New York Times stated: “of the roughly 8.3 billion metric tons of plastics produced worldwide since the 1950s, about 6.3 billion have been thrown away, according to a 2017 study in the journal Science Advances. The study said that if current production and waste-management trends continued, about 12 billion metric tons of plastic waste would be in landfills or the natural environment by 2050”.
Back Home: Who's Responsible?
Many political and government bodies have responded to the massive amounts of plastic in our environment with a variety of different bans. For example, Cambridge, MA recently implemented a plastic bag ban for the city, and businesses are required to have (at least) a 10 cent tax on plastic bags that they hand out to customers. Furthermore, the bags businesses hand out have to be either reusable or made from recycled materials. Businesses that do not comply with the ban will receive a $300 monthly fine. On a larger scale, the United Nations has released a report “billed as the most comprehensive review of government action to curb single-use plastics, said up to 5 trillion plastic bags were used worldwide each year”. Elisa Tonda, the leader of the UN Environment’s Sustainable Lifestyle program, states that more than 60 countries have legislation against single use plastics and that 30% of those countries have seen a sharp drop in plastic bag consumption. These entities have implemented country wide bans on plastics and if the governments are able to enforce the penalties, they are seen to have a success rate.
Now, as companies such as Starbucks and McDonald’s are working on phasing out plastic straws, the question is whether these bans on single use plastic are more effective on the local, state, or federal level. Or, in the end, should it be up to local businesses and large corporations to decide what will be best for their consumer base?