Plastic Pollution

December 7, 2018 • Volume 28, Issue 43
Can the global mess be cleaned up?
By Jane Fullerton Lemons

Introduction

Plastic waste mars the shoreline near Athens (Cover: Getty Images/Milos Bicanski)
Plastic waste mars the shoreline near Athens, Greece, on June 26, 2018. The world has produced more than 1 metric ton of plastic for every person on Earth, and much of it is littering oceans and the landscape. Conservationists and others want to reduce plastic waste through recycling or decreased production of the material. (Cover: Getty Images/Milos Bicanski)

Plastic waste is clogging landfills, sullying cityscapes, fouling oceans with massive debris fields and killing sea creatures that ingest everything from discarded fishing equipment to disposable food containers. The problem has become so acute that plastic could outweigh ocean fish by 2050. The crisis threatens not only wildlife but also human health, as plastic breaks down into microscopic pieces that enter the global food chain. Environmentalists have long promoted recycling as a key strategy for curbing plastic pollution, and more recycling plants in the United States and Asia are planned. But China — once the world's leading recycler — announced last January that it would stop accepting plastic waste from other nations, creating uncertainty about where millions of tons of plastic detritus will go. As the threat grows, more municipalities are banning plastic shopping bags and drinking straws, and corporations are redesigning packaging to reduce waste. But conservationists say such steps will go only so far. The real solution, they say, is to stop producing so much plastic.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Environmental Protection
Dec. 07, 2018  Plastic Pollution
Dec. 02, 2016  Arctic Development
Apr. 22, 2016  Managing Western Lands
Jul. 18, 2014  Regulating Toxic Chemicals
Sep. 20, 2013  Future of the Arctic
Jun. 14, 2013  Climate Change
Nov. 06, 2012  Vanishing Biodiversity
Nov. 02, 2012  Managing Wildfires
Nov. 04, 2011  Managing Public Lands
Aug. 26, 2011  Gulf Coast Restoration
Jul. 2010  Plastic Pollution
Feb. 2010  Climate Change
Jan. 09, 2009  Confronting Warming
Dec. 05, 2008  Reducing Your Carbon Footprint
Nov. 2008  Carbon Trading
Oct. 03, 2008  Protecting Wetlands
Feb. 29, 2008  Buying Green
Dec. 14, 2007  Future of Recycling
Nov. 30, 2007  Disappearing Species
Feb. 2007  Curbing Climate Change
Dec. 01, 2006  The New Environmentalism
Jan. 27, 2006  Climate Change
Oct. 25, 2002  Bush and the Environment
Oct. 05, 2001  Invasive Species
Nov. 05, 1999  Saving Open Spaces
Jun. 11, 1999  Saving the Rain Forests
May 21, 1999  Setting Environmental Priorities
Mar. 19, 1999  Partisan Politics
Oct. 16, 1998  National Forests
Jun. 19, 1998  Environmental Justice
Aug. 23, 1996  Cleaning Up Hazardous Wastes
Mar. 31, 1995  Environmental Movement at 25
Jun. 19, 1992  Lead Poisoning
May 15, 1992  Jobs Vs. Environment
Jan. 17, 1992  Oil Spills
Sep. 20, 1991  Saving the Forests
Apr. 26, 1991  Electromagnetic Fields: Are They Dangerous?
Sep. 08, 1989  Free Market Environmental Protection
Dec. 09, 1988  Setting Environmental Priorities
Jul. 29, 1988  Living with Hazardous Wastes
Dec. 20, 1985  Requiem for Rain Forests?
Aug. 17, 1984  Protecting the Wilderness
Jun. 15, 1984  Troubled Ocean Fisheries
Aug. 19, 1983  America's Disappearing Wetlands
Feb. 22, 1980  Noise Control
Nov. 16, 1979  Closing the Environmental Decade
Oct. 13, 1978  Toxic Substance Control
Feb. 27, 1976  Pollution Control: Costs and Benefits
Nov. 28, 1975  Forest Policy
May 30, 1975  Wilderness Preservation
Dec. 20, 1974  Environmental Policy
Nov. 14, 1973  Strip Mining
Dec. 01, 1971  Global Pollution
Jul. 21, 1971  Protection of the Countryside
Jan. 06, 1971  Pollution Technology
Jun. 19, 1968  Protection of the Environment
Oct. 30, 1963  Noise Suppression
BROWSE RELATED TOPICS:
Consumer Behavior
Earth Sciences
Environmentalism
General International Relations
Manufacturing and Industrial Production
Recycling and Solid Waste
Water Pollution