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Resources on Plastics in the Environment (June 2022): The Search for Remedies and Mitigation

By Margaret Manion

The Search for Remedies and Mitigation

Most suggested solutions to the problem of plastics pollution fall into two main categories: first, reducing the amount of virgin plastic produced and second, improving the collection and recycling of already-used plastics. This dichotomy is aptly captured by Oliver Smith and Avi Brisman—who focus on the “recycling” of public guilt into support for a more principled and ethical consumer citizenship in the form of increased demand for “green” plastic products—a transformation involving corporate social engineering pursued by actors in what they describe as the “environmental crisis industry” (ECI).2 Bearing this caveat in mind, readers may still be interested in gaining traction on the problem by considering practices they can easily adopt and causes they may want to promote. Eliminating disposable plastic packaging by substituting more degradable materials such as paper would arguably result in less plastic being produced and aid recycling by improving the overall quality of recycled waste. Yet, this cannot be achieved solely by actions of individual consumers. Still, in Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash, Edward Humes explores wastefulness as endemic to our current culture and suggests that ordinary citizens can reduce problems associated with hazardous non-biodegradable waste by adopting a more frugal lifestyle. For an audience primarily composed of advanced science students and researchers, editor Trevor Letcher offers many detailed studies in Plastic Waste and Recycling (discussed above). Contributing authors discuss the details of recycling, including specific treatment methods, and other disposal alternatives such as biodegradation and incineration, suitable for certain types of plastic materials. Some contributors to this volume envision how plastics might be resituated in a so-called circular economy, citing existing programs involving such innovation from various countries around the world. On the other hand, in Yes, There are Alternatives to Plastic, Jane Adams argues that rather than relying on recycling or landfills to dispose of their plastic waste, consumers themselves should avoid plastic altogether. To her credit, Adams does provide examples of how ordinary consumers can substitute natural sustainable alternatives for plastic.

Albert Bates, in Transforming Plastic (mentioned above), argues that the only way to minimize the buildup of plastics on our planet is for governments to mandate and enforce industrial and economic changes to ensure that recycled and biodegradable plastics will become more cost effective than newly manufactured plastic derived from fossil fuel extraction. Bates’s notable contribution is to focus on industry and government instead of unfairly placing the burden mainly on individual consumers. Yet, the pitch to consumers has been unabated: in How to Give up Plastic, author Will McCallum, too, sees giving up plastics altogether as the only real solution, again listing many small changes that people can make in their daily lives, including using sustainable alternatives to plastics, especially alternatives to single-use plastics, but also stressing paths to citizen advocacy. One possible defense against the human tendency to ignore a polarizing problem beset by stridently opposing viewpoints is offered by Martin Wagner in his contribution to Microplastic in the Environment, edited by Michael Bank (mentioned above). In the final chapter of this book, Wagner usefully proposes a framework within which readers may consider the issue of plastic pollution as a complex of related problems, rather than only one (chapter 11: “Solutions to Plastic Pollution: A Conceptual Framework to Tackle a Wicked Problem”). Wagner analyzes the characteristics of wicked problems and applies each one in the form of a question posed with respect to plastic pollution, creating a helpful space for further thought.

 2. Oliver Smith and Avi Brisman, “Plastic Waste and the Environmental Crisis Industry.” Critical Criminology 29 (2021): 289-309,

Works Cited