Many climate change organizations have shifted from focusing on plastic consumption to advocating for the reduction of fossil fuels across all sectors, but the two are inextricably linked. In fact, 99% of plastic polymers and chemical additives are made from fossil fuel feedstocks. It is important to continue to work on plastics, as they are the fastest-growing source of industrial greenhouse gasses. 

While most plastics can technically be recycled, the reality is that less than 10 percent of plastic waste is actually recycled. The large majority of it ends up in landfills or incinerated, due to contamination, chemical additives of certain plastics, and lack of resources and incentives to use recycled plastics once processed.  About 20% of plastic waste is incinerated, which is a carbon-intensive process. Incineration also creates toxic air pollution, which disproportionately affects lower-income communities that already face the harshest impacts of climate change. 

For years, we have been told to “reduce, reuse, and recycle.” Many try to limit their plastic consumption by choosing their favorite reusable water bottle before leaving the house, skipping the plastic produce bag, recycling when available, and supporting local and sustainable businesses. Personal choices are important to combat the overuse of plastic, but the root of the problem is not the average person, but the large corporations who continue to overuse plastic in every facet of their businesses and the government officials who avoid taking steps to reduce plastic pollution. 

On top of making better personal choices, here are some concrete steps you can take to help limit plastic creation, consumption, and misuse in the future:

  • Contact your local representatives and ask for policies like:
    • Improved waste management, with recycling facilities that are capable of recycling more plastic types (for information about recycling in the City of Madison, click here)
    • Better recycling programs
    • Incentives for businesses to reduce their waste or switch to compostable packaging
    • Improved education for residents about the importance of reducing plastic consumption
    • Concrete, timeline-defined, specific goals for city, county, and state government agencies to reduce their own waste (e.g., an elimination of plastic single-use water bottles at Dane County events by 2030)
  • You can also contact local businesses and ask about their sustainability practices and advocate for new practices to be implemented

One popular regulation in other places of the world is a ban on plastic bags at various stores. Unfortunately, Wisconsin has a law that prohibits local municipalities from requiring a fee or prohibiting the use of single-use auxiliary items like plastic bags. You can contact your Wisconsin state senator & representative and let them know that you want this law to be overturned in a future piece of legislation. 

However – the key thing to remember is that everyone has different choices to make, and we shouldn’t be making this about judgment and shame. The reality is that many products in plastic packaging are less expensive than those in sustainable packaging, and for some households the more expensive products are out of reach. Casting shame on these households is cruel, unjust, and counterproductive. Instead, think about ways that we can push the people in power – decision-makers in government, officers in large corporations, etc – to make it easier for everyone to have access to sustainable and AFFORDABLE alternatives. 

One thing that 350 Wisconsin likes to say is: we’re working with the world we have to achieve the world we need. And the world we have is imperfect. At the end of the day, focus on whether YOU are achieving a net good in this world for sustainability and climate justice. None of us are perfect, and 350 Wisconsin welcomes any and all efforts to bring about a just and sustainable future for all of us!