A hidden problem in our society that lays just offshore of many of our homes across the world is the increasing trash from packaging that is ending up in the ocean. Reducing packaging waste in our oceans should be one of the top priorities in our society today. To tackle such a large problem, it’s easier to break it down into different areas in our society that if combined can reduce, if not eliminate the issue. Packaging waste in the ocean doesn’t have one solution, but if we can get companies to contribute to the solution, improve the lack recycling in our country, and come together at an individual level, we can start to see a new future for our oceans. Even though it’s a large problem, if we attack it from various angles we can make a difference in our world.

To fix the issue, the main source needs to be more sustainable. It is possible to have packaging that is earth friendly. National geographic published an article recently stating that 40% of plastic produced is packaging that is only used once and discarded (Parker, 2018). The option of bioplastics, or plant-based packaging, would be a tremendous first step. While a majority of plastic lasts for hundreds of years, bioplastics offer an alternative option. Bioplastics have the ability to degrade back down to carbon dioxide and water, reducing the pollution that packaging can make on the ocean (Goodall, 2011). By companies switching to a more sustainable option of bioplastics, we could reduce up to 40% of waste that could end up in the ocean.

Though switching to bioplastics completely won’t happen overnight, we can also tackle the problem with how we currently recycle. Additionally, even after switching to sustainable packaging, there will still be waste that needs to be recycled and our current recycling efforts aren’t working in the US. In European countries, roughly 35% pf plastic is recycled in comparison to just 10% in the US (Joyce, 2019). There is no domestic recycling program that exists and a majority of the US’s recycling and waste is shipped overseas. The United States need to take control of and have a more dedicated investment into the reduction of our packaging waste in the ocean and to create a more reliable option for recycling.

Packaging waste in the ocean is a multilayered issue and seems to big for one person to make a difference. We can’t only look to companies to start using bioplastics or for the government to recycle, starting at home we can make a change. The average person consumes 220 pounds of plastic (mostly in the form of packaging) in a year (Globalist, 2017). Just by being more conscious and deliberate about what we consume and how it’s packaged, we can initiate a change within our production of waste. By reducing our use at an individual level of how much plastic and packaging waste we use, even though it may feel small at an individual level, collectively we can make a big impact on our oceans.

This issue won’t be fixed simply with one solution. Plastic from packaging poses a difficult challenge to the waste collecting in the ocean, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to start today to fix this problem. There are several areas in which we can improve, and this topic can be quite extensive. But it starts with us, holding companies accountable for more sustainable packaging, creating a working recycling system in the United States, and being the example in our day to day lives to collectively reduce the amount of packaging waste that could potentially end up in the ocean.

Works Cited:

Globalist, T. (2017, October 12). theglobalist.com

Goodall, C. (2011, September 2). Carbon Commentary

Joyce, C. (2019, August 20). npr.org

Parker, L. (2018, December 20). nationalgeographic.com

Essay by: Colette Hairston
Arizona State University

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