It is time for companies and governments to holistically tackle single-use plastics
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This is the year that people all over the world demand meaningful action on the plastic pollution crisis. Millions have been inspired to act by the devastating impacts to our oceans and the marine animals in them. The heartbreaking video of a turtle with a straw stuck in its nose, the growing awareness of the garbage patches, and the imagery of beaches covered in plastic have shown us that we should not rely on this dangerous material that pollutes our environment forever.

But the answer is not for corporations or governments to simply ban plastic straws or bags and walk away from the problem. The solution is dismantling our throwaway culture and ending our reliance on single-use plastics altogether, and in the process striking a massive blow to the fossil fuel industry.

In 2018, Starbucks announced that it was getting rid of plastic straws for many of its drinks and transitioning to a new lid that does not require a straw. Unfortunately, the new lid is not recyclable in most locations across the country and it actually contains more plastic than the previous lid and straws did combined. Other companies like McDonald’s are starting to swap out throwaway plastic for throwaway paper straws, ignoring the potential for increased deforestation as a result. There is no way the planet can sustain additional demand from companies attempting to substitute their single-use plastic packaging with paper or cardboard.

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It is time for U.S. companies and governments to embrace holistic strategies that accelerate the shift toward systems of reuse and package-free solutions and end our throwaway culture entirely. In early 2019, Berkeley, Calif., passed a comprehensive plastic reduction ordinance that not only eliminates single-use plastics, it shifts the entire city toward reuse and away from throwaway packaging. And in late 2019, Giant Eagle became the first U.S. supermarket to commit to eliminating all single-use plastics throughout its operations by 2025. Other cities and companies should follow suit, for the benefit of our planet and impacted communities worldwide.

While numerous local governments and corporations have climate commitments, not many are treating plastic pollution as the climate crisis it is. Plastic is dangerous throughout its entire lifecycle -- from the extraction and refining of oil and gas used to produce it to its eventual disposal, often through incineration or landfilling. Communities alongside petrochemical facilities -- often low-income communities of color -- are suffering with elevated rates of cancer, asthma, and reproductive disorders to maintain corporations’ dependence on cheap plastics.

Even as petrochemical producers issue handwringing statements about the need to end plastic pollution, they have invested over $200 billion in expanding production capacity in the U.S. aimed at locking the world into decades of increased plastic use. The same oil and gas companies driving climate change rely on the continued use of single-use plastics for profits.

This has to stop. It is time to let the consumer goods companies and retailers we buy from know that their alliance with the fossil fuel industry is unacceptable. Through their continued reliance on single-use plastics, companies like Target, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Nestlé, and Walmart are destroying our planet and disproportionately hurting low-income communities. These retailers and consumer goods companies should not be profiting off of their ability to make cheap throwaway packaging on the backs of the poor and most vulnerable.

It is also time for our elected officials in Washington to support national legislation to reduce and eventually eliminate single-use plastics, such as the legislation that will be introduced by Sen. Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallButtigieg expands on climate plan with new proposals Climate change a rising concern for Western voters, poll finds Greenpeace says many plastics are not actually recyclable MORE (D-N.M.) and Rep. Alan LowenthalAlan Stuart LowenthalGreenpeace says many plastics are not actually recyclable A disaster for diplomacy and the Zionist dream Overnight Energy: Trump budget slashes EPA funding | International hunting council disbands amid lawsuit | Bill targets single-use plastics MORE (D-Calif.). That means setting clear targets for eliminating the most problematic, unrecyclable plastics first, and working toward eliminating all throwaway plastics in the years to follow. Any national legislation should also halt the petrochemical facility expansion that is intended to increase plastic production for decades to come.

If the companies that people know and buy from refuse to find ways to transition away from single-use plastics, it is up to all of us to move our money toward companies that do. It is not just marine animals and our oceans suffering from our plastic addiction, it is people worldwide who feel the health and social impacts of these polluting industries. Plastic pollution is an urgent environmental justice issue, and it’s time for companies and governments to start treating it that way.

Greenpeace USA Oceans Campaign Director John Hocevar is a marine biologist and leads the organization’s work to engage corporations on plastics.