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Resources on Plastics in the Environment (June 2022): Environmental Awareness

By Margaret Manion

Environmental Awareness

During the 1960s and 1970s, especially after publication of Rachel Carsonʼs Silent Spring, the burning of the polluted Cuyahoga River, and creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, public awareness of pollution in general increased. Activist organizations such as Greenpeace, Earth Day, Zero Waste International Alliance, Plastic Oceans, and Break Free from Plastic took shape. Yet, in Plastics and Microplastics (mentioned above), David Newton recalls that there still was not much concern about the adverse effects of plastics on the environment and human health in either the popular or scholarly literature until the turn of the century, despite steadily increasing production and use of plastic. Since 2000, there has been greater scrutiny of the issue, as evidenced by the number of books and articles (in scholarly journals and popular magazines), not to mention standalone dissertations, covering the environmental aspects of plastics manufacture and use. According to Newton, this crescendo is especially apparent in the past five years. Media and social platforms have played a role, as numerous heart-wrenching images have appeared on the internet showing animals entangled in or ingesting plastic. Even children’s literature now includes numerous titles on the problem of plastic in the environment. But unfortunately, as Newton points out, some industrial concerns involved in plastics production do engage in so-called greenwashing, giving the impression that they are environmentally friendly when in fact they continue to engage in practices that pollute the environment. Henry Shue, in his recent book The Pivotal Generation, urges readers to advocacy for slowing down climate change “right now” by pointing out a climate of deception surrounding today’s fossil fuel extraction industry. As Shue specifically argues, fueling both the plastics industry and consumer demand for “vastly more plastic” is an important newer purpose embraced by the fossil fuel establishment. In Junk Raft, Marcus Eriksen (founder of the 5 Gyres Institute) recounts his trip to the infamous Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the gyre or large spiral current system circulating around the edges of the Pacific Rim, that is now the home of ever-increasing amounts of floating plastic debris. The book tells the story of Eriksen’s personal commitment to environmental activism. Plastic Free, by Rebecca Prince-Ruiz, recounts how the online Plastic Free July event began as a project of the Plastic Free Foundation founded by herself, and how she and her small media organization in Australia grew it from a one-person idea to an annual online phenomenon (described by Prince-Ruiz as a “global movement”) providing anti-waste inspirational content, such as a “choose to refuse” challenge and related behavior change support, to participants joining in from around the world. According to event outreach and press publicity, the 2021 action logged 120 million participants in 177 countries.

Works Cited