Policies to Combat Plastic Pollution
Today we produce about 380 million metric tons or more of plastic per year, about 40 percent of which are single-use plastics that we throw away, said Rochman. This is a valuable material, made out of oil, that doesn’t have a sustainable life cycle. “If we really valued the plastic material along its entire life cycle, we would recycle more,” she said.
If we continue business as usual, one researcher has estimated that by 2060, we will double the amount of plastic waste produced that has the ability to leak into the environment, said Rochman. We must do something about this, but there is no silver bullet, she said; many different solutions — cleanup, reduced use of plastics, improved waste and materials management — will be needed.
Rochman and her colleagues recently proposed that the world needs an international agreement for plastic pollution — perhaps following the example of the Paris Agreement on climate change, which sets a target level for lowering carbon emissions. Right now, said Rochman, we are emitting 8 million metric tons of plastic to the ocean each year, and so perhaps our target should be to reduce it to 2 million metric tons. With a numerical target established, countries could sign on to the agreement, and there could be a global fund that allows countries that lack resources to be able to take action.
Within each country, supportive policies are needed at every level of government, Rochman said. Cities, for example, have imposed bans on single-use plastics and put in green stormwater infrastructure, and at the federal level a ban on microbeads might be enacted. We need all stakeholders – industry, scientists, the public, media, and municipalities -- working together, she said, because government can’t do it alone.
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