We can also become more effective at reducing, reusing, recycling, and re-purposing existing plastic. But then there is the reality check that there is so much plastic already in the environment—and so much of it is microplastic—that it is nearly impossible to truly clean up. Our planet is already forever changed.
We can’t go back to a world free of plastic pollution. But we can stop the problem from growing, and we can turn the trend around. To do that we really must break our addiction to plastic. We must refuse to use plastic. We must stop creating new plastic. This will require a major cultural shift—the creation of new traditions, norms, trends, memes. A shift away from a culture that accepts things being disposable, away from ordering so many of our meals “to go.”
At the risk of sounding too romantic, we need a return to eating our meals and drinking our coffee while sitting and looking each other in the eye—then actually washing the dishes! Of course, this also has lots of other benefits—for our heath, well-being, for community-building—beyond plastic reduction.
As an advocate for social justice, I will note that while the stakes are high for all of us, they are often even higher for poor communities and communities of color on the coasts. They are the ones who live near the most polluted and plastic-choked waters; who are less likely to be able to filter carcinogenic microplastics out of their drinking water; who are more likely to live in neighborhoods without robust waste management and recycling services, where plastic trash just piles up and up. Ocean conservation is a social justice issue.