Most trash collected each year by International Coastal Cleanup volunteers is made of plastic.

In a short time, disposable plastics have become the new normal and created a new form of pollution.

Billions of disposable and single-use plastic bags, straws, bottles, utensils, lids, cups, diapers and many other products are crammed into landfills and are polluting streams, lakes, beaches and the ocean.

While the ICC creates awareness of the extent of marine debris, preventing and solving this pollution must address the underlying unsustainable production and consumption patterns that are responsible for this problem. The fact is that plastic does not decompose.

Unfortunately, taking voluntary actions, because it’s the right thing to do, doesn’t work when there are more than seven billion people. Bans and fees on disposable plastics won’t solve the problem, either, unless they are done uniformly in every city, state and country around the world.

Illinois became the first state to ban plastic microbeads in personal care products and California recently banned plastic bags. However, plastic pollution will still impact these states since it travels from other states and countries to their shores, and the ocean and water resources we all share.

Requiring businesses to take responsibility for their products’ end-of-life impacts is the best solution. It redistributes the burden from governments and individuals to producers. Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) and clear performance standards would encourage innovation that provides consumers with more durable products and less waste. Reusable steel and glass bottles, cloth grocery bags and green chemistry can move us to a more sustainable society whose goal should be zero waste.

And with proper recovery, events like the ICC become unnecessary.

But you don’t have to wait to start tackling this serious issue. Start by volunteering this Saturday at an ICC site near you and do the following:

1. Refuse all disposable plastics.

2. Reduce plastic and other waste. Replace them with reusable products. Buy products with little or no packaging, and products made from recycled materials like glass and aluminum, which can be reused and recycled indefinitely.

3. Recycle.

4. Don’t litter — dispose of your waste properly. (This includes cigarette butts).

5. Urge your local, state and national leaders to take steps to reduce plastic pollution.

Issue Publication Date: 
Tuesday, September 16, 2014

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