Packaging waste is clogging our waterways and landfills. It is killing our fish and polluting the landscape. Ironically, most people say how bad excessive packaging is in our stores and what a waste it is for consumers. Most people also don’t do anything about it if they want the product, however. As consumers, we wait for someone else to do something about the problem. Meanwhile, we stack the Christmas gifts under a tree that are mostly boxed in excessive plastic, little plastic strips to bind the toy to the cardboard, and the plastic bag we carry it home in.

I think my generation is becoming more aware of this as a serious problem but feel helpless to do much about it. Many of us now try to use a reusable water bottle instead of a PET water bottle that ends up the landfills for years but this still isn’t enough. What’s missing for us as consumers is the knowledge to make a difference.

When I first thought about writing this essay, I didn’t think I could come up with any ideas to do it. I walked away from it a couple of times. However, I found myself wondering, no matter how silly it was, what could we do to help with the enormous plastic waste problem in our oceans with one simple step at a time.

I told myself to think outside the box and I thought about using cloth for wrapping gifts, then I found it already existed on Etsy. I thought about recycled paper for wrap and found Wrappily already thought of and markets 100% recyclable and compostable newsprint beautifully designed for wrapping. I thought I was on to something when I thought about biodegradable plastic bags. Not the type that can sit in landfills for hundreds or thousands of years and biodegrade eventually, but actual biodegradable bags. I found out this exists as well! Places like BioBag, Aircover, and Stout by Envision already exist! Voba and Vespa Planet even make biodegradable dog poop bags! Who knew? Not me and that, of course, is what led me to change my focus and realize we have generations of people who just don’t know that they don’t know!

I have arrived at the conclusion that paying 8 cents a bag in the grocery store if I forgot my own wasn’t enough. To cut down on plastic waste in my state of Washington, consumers pay 8 cents per plastic bag to cut down on waste. Wait, what? This seems like a money grab to me! So many of us just continue to buy the bags. In facts, they are thicker and larger than the old plastic bags that Walmart and Safeway use to give us. This seems so counter-productive. After looking into it, these 8 cent bags only have to be made out of 20% recycled materials. Did I read that right? I double-checked and yep, it’s true. To top this off, the business gets to keep the 8 cents! That money does not go into efforts to reduce plastic waste or clean up oceans. It goes directly into the pockets of companies. By the way, there is no ban on produce plastic bags used in grocery stores. For some reason that I couldn’t find, these are exempt. I don’t think this is a huge win for our environment. I think it is another way for corporations to make money from consumers and still use plastic! Even the paper bags we are offered for 15 cents each only have to be 40% biodegradable. That, of course, doesn’t seem acceptable to solving the problem.

What I have arrived at is one, I mostly likely won’t win this essay contest because there are students who are actually enrolled in the sciences and are seriously trying to help this situation. They already know this information that I just discovered. Secondly, if nothing else, I realized we lack an awareness of what is already out there for us to help our environment. I mean, biodegradable poop bags?! That is what I can bring to the table in writing this essay. We need to be educated on ways to help.

I wish there were more campaigns and advertising available to spread the word. Maybe these companies could bring projects to schools to win scholarships or even Biodegradable Bags for Life by having art students design billboards to spread the word, therefore educating students and communities. For example, a billboard that shows a body wrapped in Eco Kraft Wrapping Roll. “Need to dispose of a body quickly? Use Eco Kraft Large Wrapping Roll. No need to use bubble wrap and ruin the world!” Of course, this might not be how Kraft would like their product marketed, but you get the idea.

We absolutely have to become aware of what is available to us instead of plastic. Right now, we have “garbage patches” of floating plastic swirling around the Pacific Ocean. Ninety percent of seabirds have plastic in their poor little tummies! Wildlife is getting itself bound in plastic and dying. Maybe PETA could advertise that and show us what the actual consequences of our plastic usage is doing to our wildlife. Besides, I can’t take anymore suffering dogs being rescued as shown on tv sponsored by PETA. It’s heartbreaking but using this same approach, PETA could wake up the world to what plastic is doing to our oceans. We need this shoved right into our faces if we are even going to start thinking about our part in this entire mess of plastic usage and our oceans.

I think the greatest thing we can do right now is make the problem with plastics in our oceans real. We need to put it out there in real life ways so people can SEE what is happening. Put it on television, put it on billboards, shout it out in classrooms where minds are set up to make change. Offer companies incentives to use and promote biodegradable packaging or charge those who don’t money to help clean the oceans. Hit these corporations where it hurts – right in the monetary bottom line. I think this is what is going to make a difference. If we don’t see it, we don’t know how it actually affects us. Kraft? PETA? Your move.

Kallie King
Weatherwax High School

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