One of the largest sources of pollution today is plastic packaging. From the production of plastic to its disposal, plastic contributes greatly to the acceleration of climate change and climate disruption. Currently, there are over 5 trillion pieces of plastic in the ocean. These pieces of plastic not only kill sea life, damaging the entire ocean ecosystem, but they can also end up back in human’s food and be ingested. Clearly, there is a large problem presented by plastic packaging, and a more sustainable solution must be found.
Plastic packaging appears almost everywhere in modern life, and one of the largest sources of plastic packaging is found in food packaging, from grocery stores to take-out food and everything in between. Luckly, a number of these plastics can be eliminated with relative ease. Take for example, plastic grocery bags, a type of packaging used to transport groceries from a grocery store to inside someone’s home. Plastic packaging is often used to ensure cleanliness, but in the case of grocery bags, the plastic serves no purpose, and other more sustainable options such as cloth, or sturdy, reusable plastic, serve the same purpose while maintaining the same amount of cleanliness. Many cities around the United States, and around the world, have completely eliminated plastic grocery bags, such as Albuquerque, New York State, France, and instead encourage their residents to find more sustainable bags. This goes to show that in many cases, there are already sustainable solutions in place that people simply choose not to use as plastic is the option that is more readily available. If one takes away these plastics and replaces them with a more sustainable solution, people will use that option instead.
Another food related type of packaging that has been experiencing a bit of a sustainable revolution is in take-out food packaging. During the pandemic, the number of people who ordered take-out food grew, and nearly all of the restaurants would use some kind of plastic, styrofoam or both in order to package their food. One of the companies seeking to make a change to this is DeliverZero, which works with restaurants to package food in reusable containers, which can then be cleaned and returned to any participating restaurant. DeliverZero currently operates in New York City, and many similar companies have sprung up across the United States, such as Repeater, which operates in Denver, and M’Porte, which operates in San Diego. These innovative companies show that there are many solutions to eliminating plastic in the world.
One of the worst types of plastic for the environment is styrofoam, which does not break down and can be extremely toxic to the environment when it enters rivers or the ocean. Styrofoam, especially packing peanuts, are very common forms of packaging, as they can help protect fragile products, and they are extremely cheap to produce. Luckly, there are sustainable alternatives, such as plant based packing peanuts, which are able to decompose after use. Plant-based packaging has been growing in popularity, as it has many uses which have yet to be discovered. Both cardboard style and hard plastic styles of packaging are able to be made out of plants. While it is not as efficient or easy to do so as it is to use plastic, as research continues on plant based, compostable packaging, it will become just as efficient or even more efficient than plastic.
Plastic packaging is one of the largest threats to our current environment, but it doesn’t have to be this way. There are endless alternatives to plastic, some of which haven’t even been discovered or thought of yet, and as companies and communities continue to embrace alternatives, we can move together into a greener world.
Essay by: Lilith Shea Clark
Albuquerque High School