Run a Google search on plastic waste and you will find no shortage of articles discussing how much plastic we throw away and where it often ends up. In so many cases, the focus is on the total volume of plastic we dispose of and the fact that so much of it ends up in waterways. But what is the real issue?
Are we actually concerned about waste or is it just how we dispose of that waste? Articles discussing how long it takes plastic to decompose in a landfill discuss the science behind plastic polymers and why they do not break down so quickly. Meanwhile, articles discussing plastic pollution in waterways focus mainly on environmental concerns.
None of the concerns are invalid. But why is nobody talking about waste itself? Waste is the bigger concern all across the board. If we were less wasteful on a day-to-day basis, plastic would be less of a problem in landfills, waterways, etc.
We Waste More Food
Taking a good look at the numbers behind municipal solid waste (MSW) in America shines a whole new light on the plastics issue. Although somewhat outdated, EPA data from 2018 proves the point. Using that data, here are the top five categories of MSW based on a percentage of the total:
- Paper and cardboard – 23.1%
- Food – 21.6%
- Plastics – 12.2%
- Yard waste – 12.1%
- Metals – 8.8%.
Paper and cardboard by far make up the largest single MSW category. But did you notice what took the second and third slots? Food and plastic, respectively. We waste far more food than we do single-use plastics. Yet food waste isn’t discussed nearly as much as plastic waste. Why is that?
Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind
Food waste is largely ignored because it is out of sight. We throw food in the trash can and then it’s off to a landfill where it quickly decomposes. If someone does throw food on the ground, it’s not long before animals take care of it. What doesn’t get eaten by animals will decompose in just a few days. It is like it never even happened.
Here is the main concern: waste is waste. If we shouldn’t be throwing tons of plastic into trash cans and landfills, we certainly shouldn’t be throwing tons of food away. And yet we do. We take our food for granted to the degree that some of us throw away more than we actually eat.
Plastic Isn’t the Problem
Plastic is not the problem we make it out to be. Rather, the real problem is waste. We use too much, throw away too much, and don’t give it a second thought. The thing is that we do not have to throw away so much plastic. We can recycle, reuse, and repurpose it if we really want to.
Tennessee is home to a company named Seraphim Plastics. Like other companies in their industry, Seraphim proves every single day that intentional industrial plastic recycling is possible. They have come up with a viable business model that is cost-effective and easy to implement. So much so that Seraphim and its fellow commercial plastic recyclers make a tidy profit doing so.
Plastic is a material. The things we make from it are objects. Neither one is to blame for plastic in landfills and waterways. Consumers and manufacturers are to blame. We are the problem. If we want to reduce the amount of plastic we throw away, it is simple. We just need to stop being so wasteful. The less waste we generate, the less we will end up tossing.