SWANA is pleased to highlight some of the essays submitted as part of SWANA's Grant H. Flint International Scholarship Program.
The Truth about Plastic and Food Waste
By: Madison Casey
"Pick that up! Plastic kills the dolphins," we hear people say. Sometimes jokingly, sometimes serious, but either way, it's true. Around 10% of the waste we produce ends up in the oceans, totaling some 260 million tons ("When The Mermaids Cry"). The average American alone produces 4.4 pounds of waste every day, only recycling 1.51 pounds. The plastic filled oceans are not alone in this waste war, approximately 1/3 of the world's food produced each year is wasted. The amount of waste that the First World countries contribute to that 1/3 would be more than enough to feed all the hungry in the world ("Key Facts on Food Loss"). Our poor habits prevent an end to world hunger while simultaneously killing innocent animals – something must be done.
We can easily solve both problems. By curbing wasteful eating habits, such as eating proper proportions and understanding how much we need, we can cut down on food waste. This would conserve the Earth's natural wealth, extending the amount of time we can sustain ourselves. Moreover, we can take the extra food we harvest but do not need, and donate it to those who do. In South Korea, the government installed programs to help reduce the amount of food waste they generate. Food waste must be places in special biodegradable bags that cost families six dollars a month. This small fee encourages people to produce less waste. In addition to the bags, a new recycling collection system uses an ID card to charge a person as they recycle. These fees gently encourage people to monitor how much food they consume. In fact, these programs have proven themselves effective by increasing the recycled food waste rate from 2% to 95%; the recycled food waste becomes fertilizer or animal feed growing the country's urban movement (Broom). If we adopted similar policies in America, we too could reduce the amount of food waste we produce and help the environment.
In addition to reducing the amount of food waste we generate, we also need to recycle materials more, specifically plastic. The amount of trash in the oceans comes mostly from single-use plastic or products people disregard immediately after finishing. All the plastic materials that litter the globe and her oceans, pile up little by little. At the United Nations Environmental Assembly in Kenya, leaders discussed who was responsible for the marine plastic crisis. The United States argues the issue needs to be solved by waste management, while the other countries stated consumer use and commercial production of the plastics needs to change. The US claimed improved waste disposal of plastics would be the fastest way to solve the plastic issue. On the other hand, the UN finds that only 40% of the world's population have proper access to waste disposal systems and therefore, tackling the problem at its source would prove more efficient. In truth, the combined effect of both would take care of the problem fastest. Unfortunately, we are too distracted disagreeing with each other to get the job done (Parker).
To ultimately benefit future generations, people need to make a change. By producing less waste and investing in better materials, we can save food and end the plastic accumulation. People can take simple steps to monitor the amount of food they waste. By finishing all their food and knowing how much they actually need people will waste less, preserving the Earth for the future. To save the oceans from monstrous plastic, waste consumers can stop investing in single-use plastic. Instead choose to buy a reusable water bottle or Tupperware container. This would slow the growth of the plastic polluting our oceans, next we need to clean it up.
Governments need to pass legislation preventing the sales of single-use plastic. The UN has a plan to phase it out slowly. This would make a difference if passed. Moreover, if waste management systems became better equipped to handle the marine plastic debris, like the US claims, the combined effects would not only save the oceans, but also save people a lot of money spent on the plastic and cleaning it up.
Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. Even young children can repeat the phrase. If we, as citizens, did our part to preserve the Earth – reducing our amount of food waste, extending the planet's life, and investing in recyclable and reusable materials to stop polluting the Earth saving the animals that live in it – the world would become a wonderful place. Furthermore, waste management workers and those who produce the waste form a symbiotic relationship. Without those to produce the waste, those who take care of it would be unemployed. And vice versa, without those to clean up the trash, those who made it would drown in it. We all need each other in this world. But we also need the Earth. We as humans have a duty to protect and preserve this planet we call home, waste management workers help by cleaning her up, but everyone else must become conscious of their waste output. By lessening our waste and recycling more, we will keep the Earth healthy longer and future generations will thank us.
Madison Casey won the 2019 Category I Grant H. Flint International Scholarship. The Category I scholarship is for graduating high school seniors or graduate equivalent certified candidates who have been accepted for enrollment in a junior college, a four-year college, or a university (any program). Madison is a graduating high school senior and will be attending Messiah College. She was nominated by the Pennsylvania Keystone Chapter.
Broom, Douglas. "South Korea Once Recycled 2% of Its Food Waste. Now It Recycles 95%." World Economic Forum, https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/04/south-korea-recycling-food-waste/.
"Key Facts on Food Loss and Waste You Should Know!" Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, http://www.fao.org/save-food/resources/keyfindings/en/.
Parker, Laura. "The World Agrees There's a Plastic Waste Crisis-Can It Agree on a Solution?" National Geographic, 26 Mar. 2019, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2019/03/un-environment-plastic-pollution-negotiations/.
"When the Mermaids Cry: The Great Plastic Tide." Plastic Pollution, http://plastic-pollution.org/.