Just how bad is the plastic problem? To put it in perspective, the concentration of plastic pollution in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is growing, and the accumulation of marine debris is 4-16 times greater than previously thought. Nearly half of all the large debris in the Gyre is lost or abandoned fishing gear. But microplastics are most certainly not just an ocean problem, but rather a global problem, affecting freshwater and even land-based ecosystems. Scientists have found large amounts of microplastics in rivers; as well as in soils, spread through household and industrial composting.
Plastic pollution such as soda rings, straws, bags, and bottle caps are often found entangling wildlife. Birds and fish often mistake small pieces of plastic for food, ingesting it or feeding it to their young. Since plastic is not digestible, the birds and other animals accumulate the plastic in their stomachs, and eventually starve. But plastic pollution does more than choke or entangle sea life. Scientists have found evidence that ocean plastic is linked with disease in coral reefs. Additionally, exposure to microplastics has been shown to decrease the reproduction and population growth rate in zooplankton—animals that form the base of the ocean food chain. So, what can we do about this? There are some policies already being put in place to reduce the amount of plastic waste, but what else can be done?
The purpose of this research paper is to examine the best and most probable policies to put in place to reduce the amount of plastic pollution and who these policies should affect. Many restaurants and food chains in California have already put in place a plan to eliminate their plastic straw or bag usage within the next few years, but there are still other sources that have yet to make a change. Some policies have recently been implemented to the state, but there is more that can be done. The best thing we can do is focus on exactly what are the next steps in eliminating plastic waste in California.
Primary Research Questions
The primary research questions in this paper are as follows: 1. What are the most important policies that should be put in place to reduce the amount of plastic waste? 2. What policies are already being put in place, and how effective will they be? 3. How should these policies be enforced? These are all questions to put into consideration when creating policies. Oftentimes policies will be put into place, but they are a challenge to keep track of. The use and waste of single-use plastics in people’s personal homes are hard to keep track of as long as people have access to those plastics.
Policy Options to Consider Involving Limiting Single-use Plastics and Pollution
There are many policies that can be put in place to reduce the amount of plastic pollution in California. Some of these policies have already been implemented in California. On September 20th, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law two Environment California-backed bills to reduce plastic pollution in the Pacific Ocean. The first is a policy that requires restaurants to only provide “straws on request”, therefore reducing the amount of plastic straws that simply go unused but still get thrown away. The second law requires state facilities to recycle food packaging. Since this spring, Environment California has been building public support for our Wildlife Over Waste campaign to reduce plastic pollution in our oceans, streams and lakes. A specific corporation that is eliminating their use of plastic straws is Starbucks. They plan to stop providing straws with their drinks all together within the next few years.
Another policy to consider that should be implemented statewide is a complete ban on plastic bags. Although there is already a partial ban on plastic bags through Proposition 67, the ban only covers grocery stores, retail stores with a pharmacy, convenience stores, food marts and liquor stores. To be more efficient, the ban should be extended to all stores- including clothing stores and retail stores without a pharmacy.
A third policy that would be effective in reducing plastic waste is restricting the amount of excess plastic packaging that is used on small items in convenience stores. Those packages are only used once, then thrown away. Candy wrappers are often littered without a second thought because they are so small. Thick plastic packaging can be replaced with cardboard boxes instead and still be just as efficient in packaging the product.
Recently a solution was put in place in San Francisco which not only helped the homeless and unemployed problem, but also helped the pollution and litter problem. The solution was to pay homeless people a little over minimum wage to clean up the beaches and the streets from waste. Giving people a paid purpose to keep the beaches clean will provide not only an income for homeless people willing to work, but also will help the environment and keep the California beaches looking pristine and beautiful.
These policies should be enforced using fines. People have been threatened to be fined for littering for years, but it is rare that it is enforced. All restaurants, convenience stores, and liquor stores should be equipped with recycling bins accessible to the public. Another idea is that all licensed fishing boats should be required to return all the fishing line and nets they use, and will be fined if anything goes missing. All boats that encounter areas in the ocean with large amounts of garbage should be required to collect at least 2 pounds of trash and return it to shore where it can be properly disposed of.
All of these policies are ideas that can be implemented, and are fairly easy to keep track of. If more people took action to clean up the ocean, recycle plastic, and stop using single-use plastics, our environment would start looking a lot cleaner. It may not solve global warming, but it’s one good step in the right direction.
Summary, Conclusions, and Recommendations
This research paper covered some of the problems caused by plastic pollution. Wildlife is heavily affected by plastic waste. Microplastics affect even the basis of all life- zooplankton. Microplastics get into our food, our soil, and affect us as well. Many policies have already been put in place, but there is more that we can do. We can ban plastic bags all together, enforce stricter fines, provide jobs that involve cleaning up beaches, and instill requirements that boats taken out to sea must return with a certain amount of plastic picked up from the ocean. If California starts to make a big change, it is likely that other states, even other countries, will follow.
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