Imagine all the plastic — all the single-use packaging and the wrappers on things that don’t even necessitate wrappers — that people encounter on a daily basis. When people acquire medicine, it’s in plastic packaging. When people purchase shampoo, it’s in plastic packaging. When people get ice cream to decompress at the end of a long day, even the cartons have a plastic lining of polyethylene.
Much of our daily lives revolve around activities that involve producing some form of trash or plastic waste. This can get frustrating knowing that loads of this plastic ends up in landfills or the ocean, as only 9 percent of it gets recycled. And while there are certainly ways to diminish the sheer amount of plastic we use on a daily basis, becoming someone who doesn’t produce any trash, known as living a zero-waste lifestyle, is highly unrealistic.
Zero-waste lifestyles have become increasingly popular with zero-waste icons such as Lauren Singer and Bea Johnson who have both contributed to the zero-waste movement with Ted Talks and books about their lifestyles. They describe how they’ve simplified their routines and their mindsets by going zero-waste and how it’s enriched their lives and empowered them to feel like they can make a difference.
While all of this is valid, Johnson and Singer have respectively devoted their lives to the pursuit of being zero-waste and promoting it. They have an abundance of time to consider how to go about eliminating the waste they produce and planning their time around doing so. Their followers, on the other-hand, can work to follow their guidelines, but they likely have lives of their own that don’t revolve around being zero-waste and would have plenty of difficulty shifting their priorities to make it so.
Furthermore, it’s important to note that these zero-waste lifestyle promoters emphasize that followers need to take action personally on reducing their waste. They focus less on encouraging followers to push for structural reform in regards to how our government handles waste and recycling. Working toward this sort of structural reform would create systemic changes that address our waste problems. This bottom-up approach of personally creating less waste so as to create less demand for things that produce waste is logical. That being said, it removes the pressure from corporations who benefit from producing inexpensive single-use packaging for items we use regularly and whose packaging continually winds up on beaches far away from where it was originally purchased.
Froilan Grate is a Filipino activist set on calling out big brands like Nestle and Unilever for their production of plastic packaging contributing a large portion of the plastic and microplastics that are in our oceans. He addresses the shift in responsibility big corporations need to take in managing this problem. Grate expresses that we need to tell companies to stop making the plastic, and that’ll be the end of the problem.
In the meantime, there are plenty of things people can do to take personal action in reducing their own plastic consumption. Those concerned about the environment can also take part in addressing the systemic changes we need to end the problem, we can limit our plastic consumption as much as possible, bring reusable bags to stores, take our refillable water bottles on the go and purchase brands that utilize recycled plastic in the making of their packaging. Systemically, we can call up our government representatives and ask them what they’re doing to address plastic pollution and ask how to show support. Public pressure can create real results and can address the systemic problem of plastic pollution in a way that reconfiguring one person's way of life simply can't.
Ellie Shippey is a senior media arts and design major. Contact Ellie at firstname.lastname@example.org.