Welcome to my first “Saving the Environment” post! Check out this argument paper I submitted to the Nation Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) 2020 writing competition. In it I outline the many detrimental effects that the plastic industry has on both the environment and human health.
The Plastic Crisis
Plastic is perhaps the most pervasive virus infecting human society and the environment we live in: chip bags, plastic wrap, food containers, and styrofoam cups are the decorations that litter the highways and beaches we wish we could enjoy and cut short the lives of the wildlife we should be trying to preserve. Perhaps the most easily avoidable source of plastic, but also the most commonly seen, is the plastic bottle. I recently participated in a beach cleanup that was handing out plastic water bottles to volunteers. The irony was surprising. However, the widespread consumption of such easily avoided pollution is not not solely the consumer’s responsibility. Rather, the ones who should be held most responsible are those who produce this waste. Take Nestle. Though most are familiar with Nestle, allow me to introduce you. A massive corporation who, among other things, bottles water and sports the slogan “Good food, good life.” Nestle necessarily values profit, placing priority on what will be most efficient and gain them the most money rather than on what is ethically right or beneficial to the inhabitants of this earth. To give an example, by now we should all be familiar with the water crisis happening in Flint, Michigan. In 2014, Flint’s governor switched the town’s water supply to the Flint River to allow Nestle’s use of their previous water source, the Michigan water reserves. This careless action has had serious repercussions on citizens. Children in Flint are at doubled risk for lead exposure than before. Tap water causes rashes and hair loss. Rather than clear H2O, faucets spout a rusty brown liquid, deemed too dangerous for the toughest houseplants. Meanwhile, Nestle pumps and bottles two hundred gallons from clean Michigan water reserves daily, selling this plastic water worldwide, paying a measly two hundred dollars annually for the right to use this water source. Rather than take action to fix the water supply, Nestle both sells and donates bottled water to citizens, which not only diverts their accountability for this issue they have directly created, but also adds to the plastic pollution crisis. Nestle’s actions undermine the role of water as a human right, directly contradicting statements they have previously made ensuring their belief that water should be available to all. The privatization of a substance crucial for survival allows water bottling companies to profit from people’s desperation for that vital substance. Not only that, but Nestle’s unsustainable bottling industry also contributes to the trillions of pieces of plastic found all across the world. Nestle takes no responsibility for the plastic bottles they produce that end up in the ocean, which break down into microplastics. They keep producing. And because practices by companies like Nestle make water undrinkable for regions without access to clean water sources, people are forced to keep buying.
But let’s not only focus our attention on one perpetrator. Let’s turn to Coca-Cola. You may have seen an advertisement right before seeing your movie in the theater displaying the company’s campaign to clean up plastic pollution from rivers across the world. Yet somehow, Coca-Cola remains the largest plastic polluter globally. Douglas McCauley of UC Santa Barbara, who has partnered with Coca-Cola to launch this campaign, has announced, “We are definitely excited about getting this plastic waste out of our rivers and oceans, but we are also excited to turn this plastic waste into data that can help us turn off the tap of this waste in the first place.” While it is noble of Mr. McCauley to invest such time and effort into cleaning up our rivers, the answer to what is polluting them is right in front of us. The answer begins with the very company that has pledged 11 million dollars to the cleanup effort, while simultaneously mass producing plastic products that continually end up in those same rivers. You can’t drain a clogged sink without first turning off the faucet; Coca-Cola can’t expect to distract the masses with their claims at being a green company while continuing to be a part of the problem.
While companies like Nestle and Coca Cola may be able to disregard the consequences of their actions now in favor of doing what is profitable, this cannot last forever. In a future where the planet has been destroyed, you cannot eat your money. You cannot build shelter from it, and you cannot replace what has been lost with it. Is profit truly more important than the future of humanity? No matter how many individuals go vegan, use their own shopping bag, or use bar shampoo, none of these things will help save our environment if large corporations don’t take responsibility for the amount of waste they produce and how much they contribute to global warming. Antarctica recently reached a record for its highest temperature ever recorded at 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Oceans are being clogged, and species are going extinct from habitat loss. Still, industries, believing they are unsinkable, continue on their destructive course towards the ever-melting iceberg.
Likewise, not only do plastic products harm the environment, but they harm us. The BPA found in most plastic products is harmful to anyone who consumes it. BPA acts as an endocrine disruptor, which means that it disrupts the body’s hormone signaling, leading to cancer, infertility, or worse. Products advertised as BPA-free aren’t safer. They contain BPA’s second cousin twice removed, BPS, which is just as harmful. BPA and BPS can be absorbed through seafood that has consumed microplastics. The threat is all around us, and still there is no change. There is no acceptable reason anyone should willingly continue to put products into the world that are known to be harmful. There is no excuse.
The future generation depends on the earth to provide them with a home for their lives, and their children’s lives, and their children’s lives. Unless something is done to save the planet, the future will suffer the consequences. The present will suffer the consequences. There has been plastic discovered at the deepest point of the human-explored ocean. Over 35,853 feet below the surface, and the sand was adorned with plastic bottles and bags. Just because the current presidents of such companies may not be around to experience the damage they have done, we will. Their children will. Their grandchildren will. 17.6 billion pounds of plastic pollution enter the ocean annually. We are killing the very marine ecosystems that keep our global biome in balance. We pollute water sources and the homes of coastal countries across the world. I understand. Plastic is cheap, and plastic is efficient. But plastic is not sustainable. Companies like Coca Cola and Nestle need to be held accountable for the damage they do. Finding more environmentally friendly alternatives to plastic may cost both money and effort, but Coca Cola and Nestle make $31.9 billion and $93.4 billion, respectively. Plastic alternatives are being developed by students, designers, and engineers worldwide. There is absolutely no reason for massive industries with funding beyond what any developers have had to not have come up with an alternative yet. Massive damage has been done. The only way to make it right is to hold contributors responsible. The plastic industry knows what it needs to do. And we cannot stop putting pressure on them until they meet our standards. We must demand a safe, sustainable, and clean future, free from the stranglehold of waste and pollution, and cannot stop until our demands have been met.
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