By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans.
The Earthwatch Institute has just released a report on the continuing fouling of European rivers with plastic.
One could look at this as a glass half full story. One in which efforts to ban plastic bags, and drinking straws, have succeeded – since as the Earthwatch report indicates, these no longer comprise significant sources of plastics pollution in European waters. Alas, that doesn’t mean these waters are otherwise free of significant plastics waste. And that’s a huge problem – as it’s estimated that 80% of riverine waste ultimately ends up in the world’s oceans.
The biggest current problem: plastic water bottles. Now, I well know it’s not possible to eschew completely buying bottled water. As regular readers know, I’m frequently on the road, in various places where drinking the local water is simply not on. So I understand that one must make certain accommodations to local situations.
That being said,the bad local water problem is not an issue in most places in Europe – where these bottles are accumulating. People in Europe buy bottled water not out of necessity, but as a matter of choice.
The easy answer: stop buying water in plastic bottles. Period. Completely.
Understand, I’m not saying that people should stop buying bottled water. But that it’s imperative to stop buying water packaged in plastic.
In the UK, according to Earthwatch, the average person uses 150 plastic water bottles each year. That means:
5.5 billion plastic bottles are littered, incinerated or sent to landfill each year, producing 233,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions.
As I’ve written before, the recycling fairy provides no solution either. China’s decision to stop accepting recycling imports has made it clear that “recycling” has long been a euphemism for shipping waste problems elsewhere.
This is completely unnecessary. A complete ban on plastic water bottles implemented in the US or EU alone could certainly help reduce the plastics problem. The bottled water issue is not so simple to address in those places where drinking local water makes people ill. But I should also note that some of these places, e.g., India, the current recycling rate is 70% for PET bottles, as Business Standard reports in PET bottles have a 70% recycle rate in India, for good reason.
As Earthwatch notes, 65% of people would be more likely to use a reusable water bottle if tap water refills were freely available. Whatever happened to water fountains? When I was growing up, these were plentiful – and early accessible.
As Treehugger reports in Plastic bottles are the most common litter in European waterways plastic water bottles are only part of the problem. Water bottles comprise 14% of waste, followed by food wrappers (12%) cigarette butts (9%), food takeaway containers (6%), cotton bud sticks (6%), and cups (4 %).
I’ll mention here that I’m not impressed by the latest Starbucks virtue signalling exercise to encourage paper cup recycling, as reported in the Guardian, Starbucks spearheads £1m initiative to boost paper cup recycling. All the waste generated in store should already be recycled – I don’t understand what Starbucks is waiting for. This is not per se a difficult issue and the company could easily move to a more sustainable waste management policy – but has chosen not to do so.
On the other side of the pond, NYC understands that the plastics issue is ultimately one of opposition to Big Oil, aka, the plastic pushers, as Waste Dive reports in Scrap Collector: NYC drops plastic in stand against ‘Big Oil’:
Enjoy those plastic forks while you still can, NYC government employees. Per an executive order signed Thursday by Mayor Bill de Blasio, agencies will now be required to end approximately 95% of single-use plastic foodware purchases in favor of compostable or recyclable alternatives. It’s a big deal for a city that purchases at least 1.1 million pounds of single-use plastic foodware each year — in addition to decreasing plastic pollution and reducing risks to wildlife, the administration estimates Executive Order 42 will cut down New York’s carbon emissions by approximately 500 tons per year.
“Big Oil has been pushing single use plastics for too long — and it stops here,” de Blasio said in a statement. “They litter our beaches and parks, jam our recycling machines, and contribute to climate change. Our actions today will help us build a fairer city for all New Yorkers.”
De Blasio also announced Thursday his support for pending legislation to reduce single-use plastic foodware in private establishments — and his intent to work with the New York City Council to ensure the legislation includes appropriate accommodations for individuals who are unable to use non-plastic options.
The directive represents New York’s latest effort to tamp down on petroleum-based products. In addition to banning single-use foam products, the city is currently divesting its pension funds from fossil fuel reserve owners and suing five fossil fuel companies for the billions of dollars that will be spent to protect New Yorkers from the effects of climate change. It’s also committed to doubling pension fund investments in climate change solutions to $4 billion by 2021 — roughly 2% of the city’s $195 billion pension portfolio — and reducing carbon emissions at least 80% by 2050.
I think NYC is on the right track here. Banning single-use plastics of various sorts means unnecessary waste isn’t created in the first instance. Creating these plastics contributes to climate change. This is low-hanging fruit. I understand there are powerful interests that push plastics. Where’s the necessary resistance?