Packaging is everywhere and part of most of our daily lives. From the plastic Starbucks coffee cup to the Styrofoam Thai food takeout box, we are filling landfills and our oceans with non-biodegradable products. If we are to create a better future regarding our packaging, we are going to need help from our governments. In 2020, when COVID began, the U.S. government was able to mandate that all persons were required to wear masks when in stores and in public. More than a year later, the masks persist, showing that when the government wants to enforce the public to do something, they can. It is on this logic that my argument stands. The government needs to slowly implement laws prohibiting the production, use, and importation of plastic and Styrofoam packaging.
While there are many kinds of plastics, they all last long enough to do damage to our environment. The American Chemistry Society notes that plastic bags fall into two categories: one that lasts 10-20 years and the other that lasts 500-1,000 years (Chamas et al., 2020). The alternatives for plastic and Styrofoam are not unlike what has begun with the alternative to plastic bags. Reusable bags and cardboard boxes have been used as sustainable packaging for some time now and have contributed to a reduction in plastic waste. Instead of going to a coffee shop and leaving with a plastic cup, we should move towards reusable cups. This is a service already offered at some coffee shops but can become mandated. Soda pops and other beverages distributed in plastic bottles can be eliminated and replaced with glass or metal alternatives. The drink industry is a big contributor to the problems with packaging waste, as is the food industry.
Restaurants, fast food joints, and even stores package foods in non-environmentally friendly packaging. Styrofoam containers can be replaced by either bamboo or stainless-steel containers. Takeout contributes to a lot of packaging waste. Materials used for takeout include aluminum foil, plastics, and Styrofoam. Stainless steel or glass containers can be brought in, purchased at, or exchanged at restaurants. If it is marketed with price incentives, more people will become swayed and encouraged to participate. The alternatives to carrying around your own containers and cups would be to purchase more environmentally friendly options from restaurants, like bamboo.
The change will take time, but with regulation, it will happen. The wearing of masks was initially a problem when COVID began, but after being mandated for so long, people have adjusted, and it is becoming normal to always have or wear a mask. This change can follow this suit. While it will take time to remember to bring your reusable bag, cup, or steel container, with enforcement of new policy, we can make a difference. Not only will this be a better option and produce less waste, but it will also aid in the reduction of the accumulation of waste in our oceans.
Chamas, A., Moon, H., Zheng, J., Qiu, Y., Tabassum, T., Jang, J. H., Abu-Omar, M., L. Scott, S. L., & Suh, S. (2020, February 3). “Degradation Rates of Plastics in the Environment.” American Chemistry Society.
Essay by: Sydney Harper
Arizona State University