A Coalition to End Plastic Waste


Making Sustainable Change is a collaborative effort of America’s Plastic Makers® and partners seeking to end plastic waste. Because plastic is essential to creating a lower-carbon future, building our nation’s essential infrastructure and strengthening our domestic supply chains, we are taking action to prevent it from going to waste.”

Making Sustainable Change is a creation of the American Chemistry Council’s Plastics Division and its members. These members include some of the largest plastic manufactures in America.

The vision this coalition of corporations has for a sustainable future involving plastics is: “We’re working for a more sustainable future by investing in solutions that can reduce plastic waste while lowering carbon emissions throughout the plastics lifecycle. And our actions toward a low-carbon future go hand in hand with our goal of protecting the environment — we’ve set a goal of making 100% of plastic packaging used in the U.S. recyclable or recoverable by 2030, and eliminating plastic packaging waste by 2040.”

This vision emphasizes the desire to expand recycling capabilities and reduce plastic waste. However, I think it is important to realize what they mean by “reducing waste.” I believe what they suggest is to try rerouting plastic destined for landfills back towards manufactures to be incorporated into new plastic. It is a vision of a circular plastic lifecycle. However, it appears they want the volume of plastic being consumed to remain constant or increase. They make no mention of reducing the amount of plastic being consumed. Further, their advocacy of recycling is in contrast towards organizations that show current recycling approaches to be an ineffective way to reuse plastic. The plastic soup foundation states, “The problem with recycling plastic is that it doesn’t really happen. For example, plastic litter is not separated during collection in The Netherlands. It can’t be used to make the same products again; for example, food packaging that is recycled cannot be used again as food packaging.” You can’t rely on recycling to create a circular economy if the plastic cannot be reused to create the same product again.

“By changing our approach to how we make, use and recapture plastic while emphasizing the value and versatility of a material that enables us to do more with less, we can create a lower-carbon and lower-emission future.”

When reading about this organization, you encounter repeated use of “we.” This implies an extended manufacturing responsibility for plastic. However, their advocacy for recycling shows an extended consumer responsibility for plastic waste. These companies don’t appear to want responsibility for their plastic after it leaves their manufacturing plants.  There is no mention of the environmental externalities of plastic and how they could address them. There is no solution presented for addressing the current plastic in the environment. There is nothing that shows that these companies want to take responsibility for the full lifecycle of their product. Which is needed for a circular plastic lifecycle to exist. The messaging of the organization doesn’t match its actions. I can’t see any meaningful desire to address the plastic problem in the short term from this organization.


COP26: Climate Activism leads to Climate Inaction

COP stands for Conference of the Parties. Attendees consist of countries that signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.  The 2021 meeting will be the 26th meeting, hence the name COP26. Over 100 world leaders attended COP26, but there were notable exceptions. Namely, Russia and China were absent. I think their absence was due to the goals of the event. The article, “Countries pledge to quit coal — but the U.S., China and India are missing,” pretty much sums up the failures of COP26. We are not any closer to a more sustainable future in regard to the climate if the biggest polluters don’t commit to limit emissions. And I believe this is inaction is caused by unrealistic expectations being set by climate activists.

According to the article, coal fuels more than a third of the energy consumed world wide and is the single biggest contributor to climate change. Reducing reliance on coal would have a significant impact on reducing new CO2 emissions. During COP26, 28 countries joined an alliance to phase out coal. Notably including Poland and Germany, Europe’s biggest consumers of coal. However, the world’s biggest burners of coal, the U.S., China, and India did not join. Several government officials have been quoted saying that these commitments mark the beginning of the end for coal. However, I do not think the timeline, all coal eliminated by 2030, is reasonable. Poland gets nearly 50% of its electricity from burning coal. There are not clean energy sources Poland can transition to that will replace coal by 2030. And in the case of Germany, the only realistic clean energy source they could transition to, nuclear power, is being eradicated. They plan to shut down all their nuclear power plants by 2022. They will instead transition to natural gas, not clean energy. The new Nord-stream 2 pipeline between Germany and Russia will help meat the demand for natural gas.

Vietnam also joined the alliance to phase out coal, but they seem to be doing the opposite. Data from 2019 shows the ratio of energy consumption from coal increasing in Vietnam.

Developing economies like Vietnam’s have increasing energy demands that cannot be met with renewables. If Vietnam was really going to transition away from coal by 2030, they would need to somehow replace all the electricity generated by coal with renewables, and continue to improve renewables to meet new electricity demand. Considering how minimal the current share of energy being consumed from renewable sources other than hydropower is, I doubt Vietnam is going to phase out coal by 2030.

Despite the climate activism and pledges from world leaders at COP26, it seems fossil fuels will still remain the primary method for electricity production, especially in developing economies. The U.S., China, and India did not join the alliance because they realistically couldn’t. And the actions of countries that did join, such as Germany and Vietnam, show a need for fossil fuels as an energy source.

Life Cycle Assessment of a tupperware

I use tupperwares every day to store food. I like to bake multiple loafs of bread or several servings of pasta. Then freezing individual servings in several tupperwares to eat later on in the week. The containers are durable enough to be microwaved and cleaned in a dishwasher. These properties allow me to reuse the containers for months. But eventually they ware down or break and get thrown away. What happens then? What happened before I started using the tupperware?

File:Tupperware-PP.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

When I think of a tupperware, I think of a see through plastics container with a snap on lid. But the tupperware didn’t begin it’s life as a container, it started as fossil fuels deep in the Earth. Once this oil is transported to a refinery, it is heated up and boiled. One of the many gases produced is propylene. The gas is distilled and then introduced to a catalyst where a plastic powder is made that is converted into pellets. A lot of energy and water is required to distill the gases. Water is converted to steam during the condensation part of distillation. Energy is used to boil the crude oil. Polypropylene is a relatively benign plastic with a clean manufacturing process. But the refining of crude oil releases toxic gases that can cause cancer and other health defects. Refineries are often located in poor areas which are usually populated by minority groups.

Natural PP Pellets | LNS Technologies

The plastic pellets are then shipped to a manufacturing plant. This is done often done by boat, train, or air. If these pellets were to be released during shipping they can cause damage to the environment and the communities that depend on it. The plastic is then injection molded into its desired shape and waiting distribution. Different Brands of tupperwares have different methods of distributing. The brand, “Tupperware”, uses direct selling where products are bought from their online store/catalog and shipped directly to the consumer. This method can use less energy during transportation.

When the tupperware is in my hands the product usually lasts many months, sometimes years. The plastic is very durable, easy to clean, and stores food very well. The way I clean them is a dish washer, which needs lots of water and electricity to run. However, while durable, they will not last forever. And when they are no longer useful, I throw them away. This means they are destined to an incinerator or a landfill.  Either way, the tupperwares will have environmental impacts. During combustion, CO2 will be releases and, depending on the additives or plastic, toxic gases too. CO2 is a greenhouse gas and contributes to global warming and the toxic gases can cause cancer if inhaled. In a landfill, polypropylene is prone to oxidation and easily damaged by UV light. If it were to escape the landfill, the plastic can easily breakdown and release microplastics into the environment.

The Price of Change is not Pocket Change


I am a very habitual person so change is not something I look lightly upon. However, when it comes to plastic pollution, its clear something needs to change. Each year, the average American produces 250 lbs of plastic waste (NPR, 2019) and they’re 329.5 million people in America. That’s around eighty-two billion pounds of plastic waste every year. But, even if I used absolutely zero plastic for a whole year, there would still be eighty-two billion pounds of plastic waste. 250 pounds is an insignificant amount of waste compared to the total. Looking at the plastic problem from this lens can be discouraging. However, I find it more motivational to look at the issue from a personal perspective. How might using less plastic enrich my own life? How much would this change cost?

Given how ingratiated plastic is in our consumer economy, I figured I should start there. Consuming. Using Beth Terry’s checklist for Grocery Shopping, I recorded what plastic products I bought and then looked for less plastic alternatives. The table below shows the results.

Type of Grocery Item Brand I Buy Now Less Plastic Alternative
Peanut Butter Harris Teeter Crunchy Peanut butter Buy Smucker’s Natural
Ground Beef Harris Teeter Rancher Beef use less
Cheese Harris Teeter Mexican Blend This brand uses the least plastic
Yeast Fleishmann’s Buy the glass jar instead of individual plastic bags
Sugar Dixie buy the paper bag packaging
Milk DailyPure Buy Harris Teeter milk
Flour King Aurthur buy paper bag packaging
Tortillas OldElPaso make my own

Many of the grocery products I buy have less plastic alternatives. The only product I could not find an alternative for was beef. All beef was packaged in plastic and any alternative such as ground turkey or chicken was also packaged in plastic. Using less was the best option to reduce plastic waste. For peanut butter, I bought the Smucker’s natural brand that was packaged in a glass jar  instead of the brand packaged in a plastic container. It tasted much better than the brand I was buying before and it was only 35 cents more. For the yeast packets I used for baking bread, I bought a glass jar full of it and it has saved a few trips to Harris Teeter for yeast. The jar also cost a dollar less than buying the individual packets. For tortillas, I decided to try and make my own to avoid throwing away the packaging. I had mixed results, and ended up buying the processed ones again instead of trying to perfect my homemade ones. Making homemade tortillas would save me a few cents but I have yet to make a good batch of them.

Based on the results, the price of changing to sustainable products seems to be mere pocket change. The peanut butter was only 35 cents, I saved a dollar on the yeasts, and I could save a few more cents by making homemade tortillas. However, for products like beef, the only less plastic alternative was to consume less. On a personal level, these changes don’t cost much, but if we revisit that discouraging societal lens I mentioned in the beginning, how much would consuming less beef cost? A beef manufacturer isn’t going to feel the loss of my $4.99 purchase of beef, but what if millions of people suddenly stopped consuming beef? The manufacturer would lose millions of dollars in revenue and most likely downsize their operation, furlough workers, and maybe even go out of business. We saw what happened to the airline industry during COVID when no one was flying. Consuming less may seem insignificant on a personal level but it can have a severe impact if enough people stop buying products in our consumer economy.

Diving into Plastic


As an amateur fossil collector and diving hobbyist, I have always enjoyed the marshlands and streams that cover coastal South Carolina. Whether I’m fishing, kayaking, or diving there is no other place I would rather be than a tidal creek/river in South Carolina. Although I have been diving and fishing in the marsh for a long time, I never considered how large my plastic foot print could be. For years, collecting crab floats and other interesting garbage that washed up onto Pickney Island was my favorite past time. After major storms, huge patches of sticks (dead spartina grass) and garbage would collect in inlets. At low tide I would search the shoreline of the islands for crab floats, life jackets, fishing supplies, boats, dock pieces, and anything else that was interesting. Looking back on it, nearly all of the stuff I kept was made of plastic, and so much of what I didn’t keep was also plastic. The crab floats are made of some sort of polystyrene as they are a white hard foam. The life jackets were most likely nylon and a different type of plastic foam. My kayak is a hard semi transparent plastic. The garbage, mostly plastic water bottles, containers, and foam could cover shorelines at times. I have seen first hand the plastic foot print of cities like Hilton Head, so its about time I start examining my own.

The Plastic I dispose of.

Most of the disposable plastic items I use when diving are plastic water bottles and zip lock bags. They are handy for keeping small fossils safe and keep our food and water clean. Everything on the dive boat eventually turns brown due to the tannic acid in blackwater rivers. Its handy to just throw away food and water containers instead of having to clean them constantly, especially since I usually get back home at 10pm. I also use drum liners to collect gravel to sort later. These are a basically massive plastic (2 feet wide, four feet long) bags and are super tough. I usually throw them away after I use them since they get punctured by sharp gravel pieces. I use about 13-14 plastic water bottles, 5 zip locks bags, and 10 drum liners every diving trip.






I think this day is representative of the amount of disposable plastic I use. The only other disposable plastics I use often I are food rappers and plastic containers such as peanut butter jars and milk jugs. I don’t enjoy eating at restaurants and like to cook my own stuff. I don’t interact with most of the disposable plastic that has ingratiated itself into our consumer economy. I don’t bother recycling since most of it ends up in a landfill anyway, my motive for not using disposable plastic is to avoid taking the trash out.

The plastic I use.

Although I use quite a bit of disposable plastic, I think its important to examine the massive amount of other plastic items I used that day that were not thrown away. Every piece of my dive gear had some sort of plastic in it. Every single one. Whether it be the neoprene wet suit, gloves, and boots. The dive knife, regulator, BCD, helmet, light, fins, dive computer, etc.. When I scrape against rocks or dig into the phosphate nodules for fossils, small plastic particles are being released into the water. The plastic we use can have a foot print even if it has not been disposed of yet.