The Week in Plastic: September 7 2020

Updated: Sep 12, 2020

When it comes to unnecessary plastic, grocery store packaging is a particularly egregious offender. Luckily, there is some low-hanging fruit here -- a few simple changes could make a big impact. A new report from Greenpeace models how UK supermarkets could cut plastic usage in half by 2020 by enacting packaging changes for a range of products. And according to the report, changing the packaging of just 13 items could cut plastic use by a whopping 35%. Products where a packaging change could make the biggest impact include household cleaners, fruit and vegetables, milk, and of course... bottled water.

Grocery retailers Asada and Aldi both released new plans to reduce single-use plastic in their stores. Although these steps are of a more modest nature than the changes recommended by Greenpeace, at least they are a step in the right direction. As a part of its goal to reduce plastic use by 15% by 2021, Asada will trial replacing single-use produce baggies with reusable alternatives. Meanwhile, Aldi will begin switching from plastic to cardboard trays for meat products, which they calculate will reduce its UK plastic usage by 1,100 tons per year.

Grocery store plastic is out of control.

Have you heard of a "fatberg"? It's like an iceberg, except its made of globs of fat, grease, tampons, condoms, and baby wipes that have been flushed down the toilet and are now clogging your sewer system. So... not much like an iceberg actually, but really gross. And they can reach the size of three humpback whales. And guess what? Like so many plastic pollution problems, fatbergs only are worsening with the coronavirus pandemic.

"Fatbergs"... they are like icebergs, but grosser.

Legislative News: State Budget Cuts Threaten Environmental Programs

It is already well-documented that the coronavirus pandemic is worsening the plastic pollution crisis, as PPE waste spirals out of control and communities feel forced to prioritize health and safety measures over environmental regulations. But in the United States, where state budgets are entering crisis mode, things might be about to get a lot worse. Case in point: To compensate for a massive revenue loss due to coronavirus, the 2020-2021 New Jersey budget proposes to cut the state’s Recycling Fund and Clean Communities Program budgets in half. That's bad news for the fight against plastic waste. And as budget crises loom in other states, similar scenarios may play out across the country, as states feel forced to cut environmental programs in order to combat COVID-induced budget shortfalls.

Science News: Microplastics in the Soil

Microplastics are everywhere, including in the water we drink, the air we breathe, and now.... in the soil we grow our food in. New research from microplastics researcher Mary Beth Kirkham demonstrates that the presence of plastics in the soil where food is grown can affect their propensity to absorb other toxins -- Wheat grown in the presence of microplastics contained higher levels of the toxic carcinogen cadmium. Kirkham explains that "The plastics really were acting as the vector for uptake of the cadmium".

A Light on the Horizon?

Is there a light on the horizon of the plastic waste crisis? Maybe. A new report from the Carbon Tracker Initiative predicts that world plastic production may peak by 2027, and then begin to decline thereafter. Why? Consumer sentiment and government regulatory action have been waging war on plastic for some time now, and Carbon Tracker predicts that this pressure on the plastic industry will only increase, as governments adopt more environmentally friendly policies and consumer awareness of the plastic waste crisis grows. This stands in contrast to the long-term projections of oil corporations, who are counting on growth in plastic production to account of a large portion of rising oil demand for decades to come. Will a drop in plastic demand hit the oil companies where it hurts? That all depends on sustained action by governments and individuals to fight plastic pollution... let's keep our eye on the ball!


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