Is the World Finally Starting to Take our Plastic Problem Seriously?

Plastic is ubiquitous and has been for a long time. The problems plastic causes have also been known for a long time. Yet we’ve been slow to act. In March, I spotted an article with some uplifting news: In Nairobi, Kenya, 175 nations gathered to pass an international treaty that is legally binding and could have a significant positive impact in rolling back plastic pollution.

As a consumer and a parent of four young children, I strive to do my part to limit my family’s contribution to the proliferation of plastic. After all, even with the most optimistic projections, it’s that next generation and the ones that follow who will in effect have to play “catch up” in getting this serious environmental problem under control.

Some History

It was interesting to learn, from the Plastics Industry Association no less, that one Alexander Parkes is credited with making the first-ever man-made plastic which he showed off at London International Exhibition in 1862. But what is closer to the plastic we know of today was first produced 1907 according to ourworldindata.org. While that was officially the start of the plastic industry, it apparently didn’t kick into gear and become a global commodity until the 1950s. “Over the next 65 years, annual production of plastics increased nearly 200-fold to 381 million tons in 2015. For context, this is roughly equivalent to the mass of two-thirds of the world population.”

There is no surprise as to why the use of plastic is so popular as spelled out in the Our World in Data website:

Plastic is a unique material with many benefits: it’s cheap, versatile, lightweight, and resistant. This makes it a valuable material for many functions. [Plastic] plays a critical role in maintaining food quality, safety and reducing food waste. The trade-offs between plastics and substitutes (or complete bans) are therefore complex and could create negative knock-on impacts on the environment.

 

A couple of things: The economics are certainly complicated, making “doing the right thing” for a family challenging, let alone nations. But also, as this article points out, there are some benefits of some plastic long-term. So, for me, this is a matter of separating the “bad” from the “not so bad.”

What a World Can Do

What’s exciting about the agreement made in Nairobi is that it not only aims to improve recycling and clean up the plastic we have lying around on our planet already, but it would place curbs on plastic manufacturing itself. The hope is it would lead to a ban on single-use plastic itself (that is saying no thanks to that straw for the kids’ soda, passing on that plastic bag at the grocery store, carrying your own water bottle to refill rather than purchasing more plastic bottles of water, etc.).

“We are making history today,” said Espen Barth Eide, Norway’s climate and the environment minister and president of the United Nations Environment Assembly on the agreement’s passage. Alas, our country was not leading the charge on this, and interestingly, the agreement drew heavily on a joint proposal from Peru and Rwanda. As it turns out, the plastic pollution problem is an even bigger problem in developing nations, and so countries like Rwanda adopted serious bans on everything involving plastic over a decade ago. “Plastic pollution is a planetary crisis, a threat that affects all of us,” Jeanne d’Arc Mujawamariya, the Rwandan environment minister, said at the meeting. “The real work now begins.”

The treaty addresses the full life of plastic, from production to disposal, recycling, and reuse. It also targets packaging design, improving recycling, and pledges that wealthier nations will help developing ones. Objections were put forth – from us, Japan, and India, but amazingly, they all eventually signed on. It’s a big step, but still a step in a very long journey.

Enough?

We at Playper are nearing the end of the development process for our Curious Kingdom box set. It’s an exciting time as our recent revisions to the toy have made it so much better. We have prioritized making process of manufacturing something that aligns with our commitment for our toys being 100% eco-friendly and contain zero toxic chemicals, plastics, or harmful dyes. I can’t say it’s always been easy, but it’s a responsibility we take seriously.

As I wrote about in our blog Raising a Green Family, there is much we can all individually do in instilling eco-friendly values in our children. While we can take a little comfort in this international agreement and efforts by governments around the world, it’ll be up to our children to make environmental progress a given, and something that makes headline news.

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