Is the War on Plastics a Distraction?

Kate Ter Haar, Flikr CC.

An article by 13 environmental experts cautions that the current ‘war on plastics’ is detracting from bigger threats to the environment.  The experts say that while plastics waste is an issue, its prominence is overshadowing greater threats, such as climate change and biodiversity. The authors call on the media and others to ensure the realities of plastic pollution are not misrepresented particularly in public dissemination of the issue.  

They argue that much of the communication around plastics waste is based on data that does not always represent the environments that have been sampled.  The aversion to plastic associated with this could encourage the use of alternative materials with potentially greater harmful impacts.  The authors warn that the public’s concern has been “exploited politically” and that legislation including banning cosmetic microplastics, taxing plastic bags and financial incentives for using reusable containers and the promotion of products as being ‘green’ for containing less plastic, risks instilling a complacency in society towards other environmental problems that are not as tangible as plastic pollution.

The unprecedented engagement of the public with environmental issues, particularly plastic pollution, presents a once in a generation opportunity to promote other potentially greater environmental issues.  This is a key moment to highlight and address areas such as our throw-away culture in society and to overhaul waste management but if prioritising plastic waste continues the opportunity will be missed and at a greater cost to our environment.

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