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Modern World Dilemma

Another major contributor to the excess of single-use plastic is overconsumption by consumers. In a modern world that values convenience, we tend to consume more and more disposable items, many of which are plastic, such as straws, plastic water bottles, detergents, lotions, etc. Given the relatively low cost of single-use plastics and the high demand, it is no wonder the production of plastics for single-use has increased dramatically, causing environmental problems to worsen.

The artificially low price of virgin plastic polymers is another key reason why the production of single-use plastic has increased. The cost of virgin plastic, which is made using petroleum, is lower than other recycled or organic materials. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation report states that virgin plastic costs 30-50 percent less than recycled plastic leaving the producers with few viable economic options. This lower purchase price makes it more economical for producers to use virgin materials in their products. In a report by the United Nations Environment Program, it was revealed that plastic production had increased 20-fold between 1964 and 2036, and the growing demand for disposable packaging and products is mainly responsible for this increase in plastic production.

Government subsidies to the oil and gas industries are also a factor in setting and maintaining the current low price of virgin plastic. These subsidies make it easier to refine and extract petroleum. In order to put this into context, the International Monetary Fund predicts that fossil fuel subsidies will reach 7.4 percent of total costs in 2025. A booming economy, which is a sign of a healthy society, encourages those in power to support these subsidies for the exploration and development of fossil fuels.

There are several solutions that can address the problem of overconsumption of virgin plastic and its low price.To reduce our dependence on single-use products, one approach is to move away from the current linear economic model of make-sell-use-discard and promote a more circular economic model where instead of discard we re-use. Plastic waste can be recycled and reused, rather than being disposed of in landfills but to successfully implement this approach, manufacturers will need to design products with end-of-life in mind. This circular model approach will ensure that plastic waste can be collected and recycled into brand-new products.


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