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Step 1: The Overview of the Issue and Academic Evidence
Single-use plastic items have become the inescapable reality of our lives. Plastic bags cost next to nothing, and in some shops, they are being handed out for free. The majority of drinks are purchased in plastic bottles, while coffee machines dispense polystyrene cups to pour the beverage into. They are thrown away, whether into a trash bin or on the ground, after which it disappears out of sight and out of mind. However, the journey of a single-use plastic item does not end there. In addition, the non-existent monetary costs of purchase are compensated by disastrous costs to the environment.
Plastic bags, bottles, and containers constitute up to 80% of the Earth’s land and water pollutants (Singh & Cooper, 2017). They pose a danger to various types of wildlife by becoming dangerous obstacles, polluting animal food, water, and natural habitats. Eriksen et al. (2014) report that the total mass of plastic pollutants found in the oceans constitutes over 5 trillion pieces, with the total weight of the pollutants exceeding 250,000 metric tons.
Plastic is not biodegradable and is not digestible either, making it extremely difficult to recycle. Surveys by Miranda and de Carvalho-Souza (2016) show that roughly 83% of turtles, 44% of all seabirds, 43% of all marine mammals, and 23% of all marine fish have plastic pellets within their bodies. This presents a threat not only to the animals, who can suffer injuries or even death from swallowing a small piece of plastic mistaken for food but also to humans and other animals who consume fish for nourishment.
One of the biggest dangers of single-use plastic items is the inability to utilize them properly. While there are recycling plants specializing in the reuse of plastics, only 5% of the total plastic output reaches the reutilization lines (Wagner, 2017). 95% of plastics end up in floating heaps in the ocean, with small bits and pieces slowly broken off of them by the elements. These large numbers of plastic are explained by the increased consumption of the human population. An average person purchases and disposes of roughly 316 plastic items a year (Singh & Cooper, 2017).
Step 2: Plastic Pollution and Conflict Theory
Social conflict theory, pioneered by Karl Marx during the second half of the 19th century, is typically focused on the materialist interpretation of social and environmental events existing in the world, perceiving them through the lens of inter-group conflict. “Man lives on nature – means that nature is his body, with which he must remain in continuous interchange if he is not to die. That man’s physical and spiritual life is linked to nature means simply that nature is linked to itself, for man is a part of nature” (as cited in Craib, 2015, p. 55). Therefore, conflict theory acknowledges the importance of harmony in nature.
At the same time, nearly all ecological problems, from overpopulation to plastic pollution, are explained in two ways (Craib, 2015). The theory claims that international corporations engage in practices that pollute the air, water, and ground in order to exploit the working class and prey on vulnerable races (minorities) while waging competitive warfare against one another. The second claim the theory makes is that the world governments, in league with multinational corporations, fail to introduce new, strong regulations against pollution and ineffectively enforce the regulations already in place.
Step 3: Proposed Solutions
The articles reviewed and summarized in this paper propose a series of solutions to the problem. Singh and Cooper (2017) propose the reduction of plastic use in modern consumption in favor of biodegradable replacements. Eriksen et al. (2014) suggest using reusable, durable materials, such as glass, in order to replace bottle containers. Wagner (2017), as well as Miranda and de Carvalho-Souza (2016), are in favor of increased recycling efforts to prevent more plastic from escaping into the sea. However, based on conflict theory, these measures would not be efficient, as humanity’s plastic problem is perceived as political rather than purely ecological.
Craib, I. (2015). Modern social theory. New York, NY: Routledge.
Eriksen, M., Lebreton, L. C., Carson, H. S., Thiel, M., Moore, C. J., Borerro, J. C.,… Reisser, J. (2014). Plastic pollution in the world’s oceans: More than 5 trillion plastic pieces weighing over 250,000 tons afloat at sea. PloS One, 9(12), e111913.
Miranda, D. D. A., & de Carvalho-Souza, G. F. (2016). Are we eating plastic-ingesting fish? Marine pollution bulletin, 103(1-2), 109-114.
Singh, J., & Cooper, T. (2017). Towards a sustainable business model for plastic shopping bag management in Sweden. Procedia CIRP, 61, 679-684.
Wagner, T. P. (2017). Reducing single-use plastic shopping bags in the USA. Waste Management, 70, 3-12.