During his visit to christen the new multibillion-dollar MEGlobal plant last month, Dow Chemical Co. CEO Jim Fitterling said the problem with plastics pollution isn’t about technology or ideas on how to address it. The problem is a lack of will among governments and consumers to do their part.
That truth could be found in the recent decision by West Columbia City Council to eliminate its recycling program because it would cost residents $8 a month to continue the service. The decision came after city leaders talked to their constituents and found the majority would rather keep that $8 in their pocket and send their recyclables to a landfill.
It is a short-sighted view to believe that $100 or so a year in savings per household is worth more than the environment we are passing on to our children and grandchildren. But it is fitting in a society where a small inconvenience for the greater good is too much to ask.
Consumers around the world are not about to surrender their plastic water bottles, disposable food storage containers and modern packaging — they’re not even willing to give up their drinking straws in the name of saving fish and birds. And heaven help Brazoria County if people ever decided to greatly reduce or eliminate the use of plastics, given how much our local economy relies on the petrochemical industry.
The truth is, people don’t have to give up their plastics to protect the environment. The technology is in place to reuse just about every form of existing plastic. But it takes consumers and governments willing to participate in the process — properly separating items and helping pay the cost for converting used products into new ones.
That does not just mean paying a few dollars more on the monthly trash bill, but perhaps paying deposits on items to ensure they are collected, similar to how some states require a deposit on aluminum soda cans and glass bottles. That money then could be used to offset the expense of collecting and processing recyclables.
Other countries have adopted measures to address plastics pollution and recycling, and the corporate world is doing its part, committing $1.5 billion toward global efforts.
“Our industry and society as a whole must do a better job of capturing and reusing plastic by scaling investments in collection, waste management, recycling technologies and new end-markets,” Fitterling said last month during a signing ceremony aimed at creating a circular economy for plastics in Thailand. “Dow continues to join forces with partners across the globe to more effectively reuse and recycle plastic waste. Working together with companies like SCG, we can create a world where no plastic ends up in the environment.”
That is not a dream scenario but an achievable goal.
It is time for consumers and governments in the greatest country in the world to commit themselves to long-term sustainability, even if it is a little inconvenient and costs a few extra dollars a month.