How Do We Lower Plastic Pollution? – Community Idea Stations

As the holiday shopping hits its peak we see more and more plastic everywhere! All that plastic finds its way to our rivers, oceans, and natural spaces causing much harm to the various ecosystems around the world. Scientists know that every minute we are dumping about one garbage truck’s worth of plastic into the ocean. Serious situations require asking some serious questions: How do we lower plastic pollution?  Listen to this Question Your World radio report produced by the Science Museum of Virginia to learn more.

The holiday season means lots and lots of shopping. There’s one thing that we encounter in nearly every aspect of shopping these days, plastics! Plastics are a big part of our consumer world and when you add it all up, it’s a lot of plastic. In fact, in 2016 humanity created about 320 million tons of plastic, of which about 40% were single use items. By 2034 this number is predicted to double! Scientists around the world know that plastic pollution is a big problem for our environment, but how do to address this big plastic issue?

The oceans especially as feeling the impacts. There have been several studies going over the amount of plastics found in depths we would not expect. Plastics found in our oceans, land, and even our animals are a clear sign that we need to begin to fix these issues!

For that we’ll need to look into a myriad of options ranging from the natural to the policy based ones. We now have several papers published about the detrimental impacts of plastics in the environment, to address these various issues we’ll need many different options on how to combat the spread of plastics. While there are many different ideas in the works, we wanted to share two that really stood out as recent plastic related news items.

Plastic, meet fungus:
Recently a potential solution was found in a landfill in Pakistan, a fungus! This fungus seems to feed off plastic thus breaking down plastics’ molecular bonds in the process. This is an opportunity for us to learn about what the biological functions are that cause this to happen. We have yet to see if this is something that we can replicate on our own in labs and what the futher impacts of this would be on various ecosystems. More lab testing is needed to see the full impacts of this relationship, but perhaps a hopeful sign in addressing the millions of tons of plastic left to waste on Earth.

Plastics and the Land Down under:
Australia has been leading the way in a lot of interesting science research ranging from habitat restoration to solar energy, but they are also trying to lead the way in curbing humanity’s plastic addiction. From having just two of Australia’s largest grocery retailers (Woolworths and Coles) cut out plastic bags the entire country has seen an 80% reduction in plastic bags. Reports indicate that in three months they were able to prevent nearly 1.5 billion bags from entering the environment.

What about us?
A friendly reminder for plastic concerned holiday shoppers: Using cloth bags, eliminating buying stuff with excessive plastic packaging, and skipping the straw while getting those holiday drinks are just a few ways to reduce our plastic footprint. Conservationists also encourage dialogue between customers and stores on how to reduce using more plastic bags, incentivizing cloth bags, stocking brands that use eco-friendly packaging, and other ideas which will ultimately make our relationship to plastics a little more balanced and healthier for our planet. Together we can give the Earth a little plastic surgery…we’re not talking about a nose job here, folks.