A team of environmental experts with the University of Nottingham has warned that, while plastic waste is an important issue, its prominence in public concern is taking attention away from greater threats like climate change and biodiversity loss.
The team of 13 published an article in the peer-reviewed scientific journal, WIREs Water. In it, they argue that the discourse around plastic waste is not always representative of the environments being sampled, and the aversion to plastic can promote the production of alternative materials with potentially greater harmful effects, according to a Science Daily article.
The authors also warn that the general public’s concern over plastic pollution has been exploited politically. Emotional imagery of wild animals stuck in plastic, small political gestures like banning microplastics in some cosmetics and promoting reusable bags and containers, for example, can instill societal complacency towards other, less tangible environmental issues made worse by today’s throw-away culture.
The authors use their article to urge governments to minimize the environmental impacts of over-consumption no matter how inconvenient, and they call on media outlets to make sure that the realities of plastic pollution are represented accurately. To do this, they say governments and other entities should also focus on environmental degradation associated with alternative materials, promote recyclable materials that have their end-of-life built in and ensure that more markets and facilities exist to recycle plastic waste.
The authors’ full article, It’s the product not the polymer: Rethinking plastic pollution, is accessible on the Wiley Online Library website.