A few weeks ago I received a package from Amazon. It was in quite a large box. Of course I opened it excitedly and the item inside was definitely a lot smaller than the box it came in. Inside the box was a whole bunch of bubble wrap and extra plastic packaging to protect the small product inside. A natural reaction for everyone is generally to just throw away all of the plastic that doesn’t pertain to the thing the person ordered. While it is understandable that companies want to protect their products since they go through so many hands when ordered online, it’s also important to remember that all that extra packaging ends up in the trash. Times are changing and online commerce has increased by 16% every single year (JumpSeller). With this change in how people receive products and with the increase in plastic use every year, companies need to start looking to alternative solutions for packaging. Additionally, we use plastic to pack almost all of our everyday items. The chips bag from the vending machine is a mix of plastic and foil. The toothpaste that we use to brush teeth is held in a type of plastic container. Our usage of plastic ends up amounting to a lot.
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency(EPA), every year, 15 million tons of plastic is used for packaging and containing items. Out of that 15 million, 11 million gets tossed directly into a landfill. That’s almost 73% of plastic. National Geographic states that plastic can take up to 4 centuries to decompose. There’s nothing left to do but leave it piling up in a landfill. At the rate we are using plastic, “by 2050, there will be 12 billion tons” of plastic in the world (National Geographic). We need to figure out another way and fast because soon it will be too late. It already will take a major shift in a lot of different areas to reduce the use of plastic, because almost every area of life has become somewhat reliant on it.
Of course, there are reasons we use plastic so much. Plastic is durable, can protect food for a long time and is cheap. Like a lot of things however, having too much of something ends up causing some damage. Plastic affects the environment from the very start of its creation in a factory. Plastic is made from chemicals that contribute to global warming. After that, it’s here with us for basically forever. Due to littering and just the amount of plastic, it ends up in various ocean ecosystems. We can see that with the fact that small bits of plastic can be traced in seafood (Friends of the Earth). It also isn’t possible to burn plastic because that releases harmful toxins in the air.
As we can see plastic definitely has a direct impact on our world. But how do we really cut it down? A great place to start off would be looking at alternative ways for companies to pack and send their products. The Environmental Protection Agency states that 40% of plastic produced is used in packaging so cutting down the usage of that will have a huge effect. Instead of using regular packing peanuts, there is a new plant based packing peanut made out of starch. These packing peanuts complete the same function of protecting products, but instead of not being able to decompose for a long time, they can disintegrate from water. Polylactic Acid(PLA) is another substitute made out of fermented plant starch. Speaking on the topic of more food like alternatives, mushroom roots surprisingly are another alternative for plastic, considering they degrade very fast.
It is important to consider cost values when switching to more eco friendly alternatives. It is understandable that PLA and mushroom roots might be a bit more expensive than regular plastic, but quite a bit of consumers say that they would rather pay a little bit more for a more sustainable package. Trivium Packaging partnered with Boston Consulting Group to conduct a study that ended with results saying that 75% of consumers are willing to pay a little more for sustainable packaging.
We need to take action sooner than later. As the world is shifting into a new way of buying and selling, we need to shift with it. Of course we as people can’t only let companies take the majority of the plastic burden. We as consumers need to take the extra step in trying to shop from more sustainable places, trying to not buy vegetables that have extra packaging around it. We as consumers need to start taking that extra step to use reusable bags and develop better habits. At the same time, the manufacturers need to take that extra step of transitioning to a new less plastic way of life. The manufacturers and consumers need to work hand in hand to cut down the damage that is being done. We need to be more conscious in making sure that we recycle next time we open that huge package with more plastic than product. If all goes well, that extra plastic should stop being there in the first place.
Essay by: Ashna Talukder
Novi High School