The Challenge of Single-Use Plastic

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Single-use plastic accounts for about 36% of total plastic production, and represents the largest use of plastic. Because single-use plastic is meant for disposal and because of its volume, it is the most visible and problematic type of plastic pollution. We cannot solve the problem of single-use plastic using the 3Rs – reduce, reuse, recycle – because this type of plastic is not designed to be reused and is difficult and uneconomical to recycle. Further, the management of plastic waste assumes that there is efficient recovery, which is not present in most developing countries. We need to expand the 3Rs to the 5Rs – redesign, reduce, reuse, recover, recycle. All plastic products must be redesigned to make them inherently recyclable and there must be a more efficient system of recovery. Further, all sectors – industry and commerce, the consumer, and government – must participate in the implementation of the 5Rs:

  • Industry: Redesign plastics to make them inherently recyclable with safe and environmentally benign additives. The producer should retain product stewardship and should internalize the cost of management of waste, recycling and disposal which result from the use of its product. This responsibility extends to the distributors and sellers of the product.
  • Consumer: Should be properly informed and educated regarding the proper use of plastics and should be responsible to reduce and reuse plastic products, and to dispose of these properly.
  • Government: Formulation of laws and regulations for plastic products and provide economic and other incentives for research into the recycling of plastic waste and the redesign of plastics. Government should also implement a comprehensive plastic waste management system which ensures efficient recovery of plastic waste.