Close-up of compressed paper and plastic gathered into bundles and stacked outdoors at waste management facility.
A team of leading environmental experts, spearheaded by the University of Nottingham, have warned that the current war on plastic is detracting from the bigger threats to the environment.
In an article published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal, Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews (WIREs) Water, the 13 experts1 say that while plastic waste is an issue, its prominence in the general public’s concern for the environment is overshadowing greater threats, for example, climate change and biodiversity loss.
The interdisciplinary team argue that much of the discourse around plastic waste is based on data that is not always representative of the environments that have been sampled. The aversion to plastic associated with this could encourage the use of alternative materials with potentially greater harmful effects.
The authors warn that plastic pollution dominates the public’s concern for the environment and has been exploited politically, after capturing the attention of the world, for example through emotive imagery of wildlife caught in plastic waste and alarmist headlines. They say small political gestures such as legislation banning cosmetic microplastics, taxing plastic bags, and financial incentives for using reusable containers, as well as the promotion of products as ‘green’ for containing less plastic than alternatives, risks instilling a complacency in society towards other environmental problems that are not as tangible as plastic pollution.
The article’s authors call on the media and others to ensure that the realities of plastic pollution are not misrepresented, particularly in the public dissemination of the issue, and urges government to minimise the environmental impact of over-consumption, however inconvenient, through product design, truly circular waste-management, and considered rather than reactionary policy.
We are seeing unprecedented engagement with environmental issues, particularly plastic pollution, from the public and we believe this presents a once in a generation opportunity to promote other, potentially greater environmental issues. This is a key moment in which to highlight and address areas such as ‘throw-away’ culture in society and overhaul waste management. However, if there is a continuation in prioritising plastic, this opportunity will be missed – and at great cost to our environment.
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