I’ve been visiting family in mid-Western America this last few days, and it’s a bit of a shock to see so little concern about plastic waste here.
At restaurants, there are already straws in the water glasses before I can say no thanks. Every checkout other than Whole Foods gives out single-use plastic bags without concern. In grocery stores, it’s hard to find anything not meticulously wrapped in plastic packaging. Most every online shopping box that arrives at my brother’s house is full of plastic fillers.
On top of that, I found a just released study from the Environmental Protection Agency from 2015 (not sure why it took them so long) that showed only 9% of plastic is being recycled here in America. This is incredibly scary given that Australia has only 7% of the population of the US, but manages to recycled 32% of plastic. That’s still a lot of plastic going to landfills.
With the strong US petroleum industry and the high cost of recycled plastic, there’s little incentive to change without significant consumer demand. That’s why the solution in America that will likely have the biggest impact will be incinerators like the one being made by Sierra Energy. Their technology is meant turn rubbish to fuel or energy without also creating emissions.
Is this a solution that should also be considered in Australia? It already is.
The question isn’t really about which solution (i.e. reduce, recycle or reuse) because all three will likely be needed to help minimise the impacts of plastic rubbish.
Really it’s about changing people – although the hardest to do. This alone will make the biggest difference of all. And in Australia, based on the stats and my observations, it seems so far that we’re more willing to change than Americans when it comes to helping with this plastic problem.