My English 101 class this semester studied food systems, and some of my students were rightly dismayed to discover just how much plastic waste we produce in the food system and in all our consumer systems, especially in the US. Plastic is amazing and flexible and we are well and truly addicted to it.
Congress recently commissioned a report from the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, and the findings are grim but unsurprising. “While only 4.3 percent of the world’s population lives in the United States, the nation was the top generator of plastic waste, producing 42 million metric tons in 2016, with per person plastic waste generation at 287 pounds.” You and I each produce something like 287 pounds of plastic waste–per year!
Unfortunately, recycling, at least with current tech, is not the answer. We only recycle about 9 percent of our plastics, despite the best efforts of well-meaning people.
The report’s suggestion: stop producing so much single-use plastic. The problem is that plastic production is exactly how the fossil fuel industry wants to maintain profitability. This article outlines a few possible directions for dealing with our abiding plastic addiction.