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Prior to its advent in 1869, the world had zero plastic. In 1907, when a fully synthetic version of the polymer we now call plastic was invented, humans reveled in the idea that they were no longer constrained by the limits of what natural resources could provide. Through World War II, the uses for plastic grew exponentially, continuing post-war as a seemingly endless number of plastic products became available to the public (Science History Institute).
Demand for this material has not subsided since, and it is now estimated that 300 million tons of plastic are created annually (Paco, 2017). Much of this ends up in the ocean, where an estimated garbage truck load of plastic enters the ocean every minute. By 2050, that number will quadruple, and there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish (Caverly, 2019). When plastic makes it to a landfill, it takes hundreds of years to decompose (State Legislature, 2007).
Many cling to the concept of recycling as a means of managing this waste stream. However, only nine percent of plastic waste is recycled (Caverly, 2019), and this number is going down. Recycling is not a solution to plastic waste, and not only because people are not choosing to recycle. There is more plastic waste that is captured with the intention of recycling it than can actually be recycled. Up until 2017, China was receiving 45 percent of the world’s plastic waste (106 million metric tons since 1992). However, this resulted in China polluting the air so severely that they enacted their National Sword policy and halted acceptance of nearly all plastic from other nations due to human health and pollution concerns. The United States was one of the top exporters of plastic to China and now must send its cargo ships filled with plastic to other countries, none of which can take on the amount China had been accepting, resulting in even more plastic entering landfills (Watson, 2018).
Coryell, Jennifer, "Partisanship and Special Interest Influence on Environmental Policy as Illustrated through Statewide Plastic Bag Policies" (2020). Graduate Student Capstone Projects. 1.
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