Stop Microplastic Pollution!

Stop Microplastic Pollution!

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IMRAN KHAN started this petition to United States Congress

Background


Reduce, reuse, recycle. The three steps for an environmentally friendly way to dispose of plastic. However, plastic is still littered and dumped into the environment, where it decomposes into an even smaller, nearly undetectable plastic called a microplastic. Microplastics are a menace to all environments over the world. Particularly in the United States, ecosystems belonging to the Great Lakes and other marine life environments are affected the most by this type of plastic. The complication with microplastics is that they do not break down into harmless molecules. Most eco-friendly items are biodegradable, meaning they break down into particles which can be absorbed into the environment. However, plastics can take hundreds or thousands of years to decompose; in the meantime, they ravage the environment. Studies have found particles in 12% of freshwater fish, 50 particles per serving of commercially-cultured oysters, and 90 particles per serving of commercially-cultured mussels. On average, there are 1,285 particles per square foot of river sediment, and 112,000 particles per square mile of Great Lakes water. Microplastics can be harmful to humans, as well as wildlife through: The physical hazards of ingesting plastic particles (fish, birds, and other animals can experience digestive obstruction, impaired reproduction, other adverse biological effects, and even death) The unhealthy additives found in plastic particles (some additives have been associated with cancer and endocrine disruption) The contaminants that accumulate on plastic particles consist of organochlorine pesticides, trace metals, and even pathogens; all of which have been found at high concentrations on microplastics.  (United States Geological Survey) Microplastics can even be found as tiny multicolored plastic bits in sand on beaches. In the oceans, microplastic pollution is often consumed by marine animals. This is harmful for biodiversity, as many animals die from consuming plastic. Some of this environmental pollution is from littering, although much of it is the result of storms, water runoff, and winds that carry microplastics into our oceans. Plastic items meant to be used just once and then discarded, like straws and lids, are the primary source of secondary plastics in the environment. Microplastics have been detected in marine organisms from plankton to whales, in commercial seafood, and even in drinking water. Alarmingly, standard water treatment facilities cannot remove all traces of microplastics. To further complicate matters, microplastics in the ocean can bind with other harmful chemicals before being ingested by marine organisms.” (National Geographic Society, 2019)

The environment is approaching a point beyond repair due to plastic pollution. It takes plastic hundreds of thousands of years to decompose (National Geographic Society, 2019), and is the main cause for many environmental problems. Although plastic does not always stay in its primary form, it can break down into even smaller particles called microplastics. Microplastics are an even bigger detriment to the environment because although they may seem insignificant, the build up has caused a very significant problem. Plastic has become so abundant in ecosystems that it is altering the physical properties of the environment (Ryan, 2015). Subjectively speaking, the problem concerning plastic and microplastic pollution is how drastic of measures policy makers should take when controlling and limiting plastic production. There have been many policies around plastic in regards to production and regulation, however it all depends on how drastic the change is. However, there is the blatant problem of microplastic pollution: it is harming the environment. To solve this problem, however, there are multiple different parties affected; plastic producers, sellers, resellers, and users. The plastic market is so large that it will affect a huge portion of the economy. This is why some policies have worked, and others haven’t. 

A notable policy has been proposed in the state of Washington, which issued a ban on single use plastic bags (effective June of 2021) (Jones, 2021). This policy prohibits single-use plastic carryout bags in all retail and grocery stores, restaurants, takeout establishments, festivals, and markets. It also will require an 8-cent charge for all recycled content paper carryout bags and reusable carryout bags made of film plastic. The ban acknowledges the detriments plastic bags provide, as the policy states that it aims to: Reduce contamination in commingled recycling and compost systems, promote reuse and recycled content, build consistency in policy and enforcement across the state, and support the recycled paper manufacturing industry. Reusable film plastic bags must contain a minimum of 20% post-consumer recycled content until July 1, 2022, and thereafter must be made from a minimum of 40% post-consumer recycled content. The percentage of post-consumer recycled content, the mil thickness, and "Reusable" must be displayed in print on the outside of the plastic bag. Bags meeting these requirements are still subject to the 8-cent charge (Jones, 2021). This policy passed by Washington is a monumental and pivotal bill for all environmental related policies. Not only does it provide alternative solutions to plastic bags, but it inspires innovation and reuse for other products. Washington has not been the only state to propose or implement policies regulating plastics. At least 29 states have introduced bills prohibiting the manufacture of synthetic microbeads for cosmetic purposes. California, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, and New Jersey have already passed bans on the production, manufacture, or sale of personal care products containing plastic microbeads. (Kettenmen, 2016) In order to combat environmental deterioration, the United States Congress should implement a Plastic Tax on all plastic items throughout the nation to decrease the amount of plastic consumed.


Social Evaluation

The plastic tax will provide many great things for our nation’s environment. The tax will influence people to not buy plastic, which will eventually lead to a decrease in consumption of plastic. If this is decreased, then less plastic will be made. Experts found that the key to reducing plastic pollution is curbing consumption.  The report and its presentation resulted from a semester-long project by UCLA students. (Cirino, 2019) With less plastic consumed, there will be less and less litter around the United States and it’s natural ecosystems. However, currently plastic still is all around the environment, which is a threat to biodiversity. Plastic ultimately breaks down into microplastics, which can resemble food sources for different animals. Because of this, plastic bags have the potential to be ingested by any number of marine organisms in the ecosystem and contribute to a greater bio-accumulation of plastic along the food chain. In addition to ingestion, entanglement is also a majorly devastating role that plastic bags play within the marine ecosystem through choking, abrasions and a debilitated feeding and hunting efficiency. “This can pose a problem over time as the plastic handles cut into their skin and cause infections, or the extra plastic attached to their body may slow them down and require them to expend more energy to move around. Due to the ambiguous and flexible structure of plastic bags, they hold a significant impact on the mortality and health of marine life.”  (Kam, Li, 2018) In order to cease this atrocity, the plastic tax needs to be implemented. Other plastic taxes have worked on smaller scales; Suffolk County on Long Island, New York, adopted a five-cent plastic bag fee at the beginning of 2018. In just a few weeks, several grocery stores reported drops in plastic-bag use of as much as 80 percent. There have been many other policies around plastic bags that have been proven to be effective. Washington, D.C. saw an 85-percent reduction in plastic bag use after a five-cent tax was implemented in 2009.  In San Francisco, plastic bag pollution dropped 70 percent following a complete ban on plastic bags with a 10-cent fee on compostable and paper bags that went into place in 2007. (Cirino, 2019) This solution will constitute structural functionalism. A stable society is maintained through a lack of individualism by creating a strong set of social rules that constrain individual attitudes and behavior. Slow growth in society is good, as fast changes can be a detriment and cause instability. This is why the plastic tax is the perfect implementation for slow growth. The tax is not an outright ban for plastic items, however it will slowly but surely decrease consumers’ demand for the product. Over time, when innovations have occurred to completely replace plastic items, a plastic ban can take place. In the meantime, a policy needs to take place to initiate a gradual yet monumental change in society. The plastic tax will not only help reduce litter in the environment. The United States is one of the most powerful countries in the world. If a federal plastic tax is implemented, others will also follow suit. In 2015, President Obama signed the Microbead Free Waters Act (MFWA), which banned any plastic microbead product used in cosmetic products. Over the years, MFWA kept adding more and more regulations. Such as in 2017, the manufacture of rinse off cosmetics containing plastic microbeads became prohibited. In 2019, it banned over-the-counter drugs containing microbeads. The movement has grown since then. “Led in part by U.S. plastic manufacturers, the International Declaration of the Global Plastics Associations for Solutions on Marine Litter, is a global agreement that was signed by more than 60 plastics associations in 34 countries. The Declaration outlines plastics associations’ commitments to engage with other public and private stakeholders to reduce marine litter. Since 2011, the plastics industry has launched over 185 projects to reduce marine litter, and support for microbead legislation in the United States is but one such project.” (Kettenmen, 2016) This presents a Law vs Ethics problem. The use of plastic is protected by law and people are free to use it. However, ethically speaking, plastic is very harmful for the environment, causing many problems with marine life and ecosystems. 

This policy presents obstacles, as all policies do. Job loss is not only a significant economic impediment, especially to those who have to provide for their families, but it can also cause problems for both the individual and the society. For instance, it can lead to lower rates of volunteering and higher rates of crime due to great amounts of stress and frustration during times of unemployment. Those who are unemployed may turn to stealing in hopes to provide for families or may find themselves in an emotional state that may cloud judgement. As a result of higher rates of crime, the standard of living in the area would decrease and become a place that is not ideal for growth, as it can become a place that exposes the residents to danger that may cause a decline in the desire for families to thrive in the neighborhood. (Kam, Li, 2018) However, The revenue collected from taxes will not only be recycled back into the economy, but also help fund programs whilst creating new habits and jobs. Taxation will change the behaviour of consumers, citizens or business. In this case, people will be less inclined to buy plastics. To add on, the polluters will be the ones who will be charged extra, not the low-income families. Although a federal tax does involve everyone, the economic costs will be moved to the financial bottom line of the body whose activity causes those costs in the first place. Moving the costs of environmental damage to those that cause it, rather than letting society deal with it, will combat the fear of rising unemployment. Lastly, it will raise revenue for public spending by taxing the ongoing damaging activity. (Powell, 2018)


Economic Evaluation

Due to the fact that the solution to decreasing plastic in the environment is a tax, there will be economic effects attached to it. However, the positives outweigh the minuscule negatives. To start off, the plastic tax offers the new, taxed funds to be reallocated into programs that promote environmental cleanliness. This allows the money to be recycled throughout the economy, allowing for an efficient use of income. There have already been policies passed in the past that have proven that recycling tax money to be effective. The proposed California plastic tax will use its revenue to juice the recycling industry and develop local pollution mitigation programs. So instead of getting a dividend, the average resident might end up paying a tiny bit more for the plastic-wrapped products they buy, if brands end up passing the 1-cent cost of the tax on to them (Simon, 2020) Washington, DC, became the first local government to levy a bag tax in 2010. In this, shoppers pay 5 cents per disposable bag. Much of the revenue goes to the Anacostia River Clean Up and Protection Fund. (Zaretsky, 2018) The reallocated funds will help stimulate the economy even more, as these new programs will likely need more workers. This will cause unemployment rates to drop. The plastic tax will also influence people to not buy plastic items. If aggregate demand is decreased, the aggregate supply will in turn decrease as well. This needs to happen in order to maintain market equilibrium. When supply is decreased, less and less plastic will be offered, in turn meaning less and less pollution will occur. If there is less plastic provided, new inventions will be essential to replace plastic. This is why the plastic tax promotes economic innovation for alternatives to plastics. This will not only be beneficial to the environment, as substitutes for plastics are necessary for change, but new products will be good for the economy. With new products come new markets, and if these products are replacing the plastic market (very large market), it will have quite a large impact on the economy. One micro effect of a tax on plastic packaging is that it will increase the private costs of producers and encourage them to innovate to find ways of reducing the amount of plastic used in products and also provide better facilities for consumers who want to recycle used items. Plastic packaging creates negative externalities both from production and consumption. (Riley, 2018) In addition to incentivizing innovation in creating new biodegradable products and packaging, which would stop plastic pollution more closely to its source, which is more impactful than most other environmental policies (Cirino, 2019). If plastic is substituted, new markets will arise. This will influence unemployment rates to drop, and will also increase the national real gross domestic product.

Like all tax policies that are presented, there is always the fear of inflation. More tax will lead to an increase in the rate of inflation which could cause an increase in the cost of living. One effect of a tax on plastic is that it could lead to an increase in the rate of inflation and therefore potentially a significant increase in the cost of living. The tax would affect many industries, including drinks & food manufacturers and other suppliers such as magazines and coffee shops. If their variable costs of production rise, producers will pass on higher costs through the supply chain to final consumers and this will lead to an increase in cost-push inflation. This is shown by an inward shift of the short-run aggregate supply curve. A higher cost of living lowers real incomes and might lead to a surge in wage demands in the labor market. (Riley, 2018) Although taxes will cause a shift in market demand for plastic, there will be benefits for other markets in the economy. The plastic market will provide less revenue for the economy, however this loss in income will be reprimanded by income brought by markets that have helped replace plastic. The impact of a tax on the rate of inflation depends on the significance of plastic in supply costs. In many industries, labor and energy costs are more important, so the effect on inflation might be limited. In addition, firms affected will have an incentive to reformulate their packaging to cut the amount of plastic. (Riley, 2018) If plastic is reduced, but substituted, there will be no harm done to the economy and the environment will be saved at the same time. 

Conclusion

In order to combat environmental deterioration, the United States Congress should implement a Plastic Tax on all plastic items throughout the nation to decrease the amount of plastic consumed. The plastic tax will be effective in decreasing the amount of litter in the environment. As stated before, after just a few weeks of having a plastic bag tax in a county in New York, plastic bag consumption dropped by 80% (Cirino 2019). The tax will also help influence other nations to follow along and create policies that will help the environment. Also, the money from the tax that will be collected can help commence programs that promote environmental friendliness. An example of this is that in Washington D.C., the five cent plastic bag tax helps fund a program which cleans the Anacostia River (Zaretsky, 2018). Lastly, the plastic bag tax will cause the aggregate demand to decrease, meaning a decrease in the aggregate supply. With less demand for plastic, producers are going to be influenced to innovate and create alternatives. These alternatives will be better for the environment, as they won’t ultimately degrade into microplastics and ravage ecosystems. Policies are passed regarding the environment all of the time. There are at least ten federal laws that protect the environment (Findlaw, 2018). There have been countless plastic taxes, whether it be on plastic bags or other plastic items. This is why a federal plastic tax is so feasible; it is so common. The environment has also been a new priority recently, as studies have shown alarming rates of environmental deterioration. Because this policy is so easy to initiate and has many social and economic benefits, the likelihood of this happening is very high. 

Although there are many manifestations of good outcomes, there could also be mitigating effects of this policy. Firstly, replacing plastic could be more environmentally detrimental than plastic itself. Producing glass, metal, paper, and other substitutes could potentially cause more damage due to greenhouse gas emissions (Simon, 2020). However, the problem with greenhouse gas emissions is more easily solvable than the problem with plastic and microplastic pollution. In order to stop microplastic pollution, federal policies such as this proposed plastic tax need to be proposed, otherwise nothing else will stop it. However, there are many more policies already in place to help reduce and mitigate carbon emission. It is also arguable that a tax like this will disproportionately affect low-income communities. Lots of families cannot afford to pay the tax on plastic, but have no choice but to buy it. This is easily solved, as the tax will mainly be put on producers and distributors. 

In all, this plastic tax is very beneficial to the community, environment, and economy. It will encourage less plastic consumption, leading to cleaner waterways and ecosystems around the nation. The tax will also force consumers to change behavior and stay away from plastic. The less and less plastic that is consumed, the less chance for microplastic pollution to occur. 

 

 

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