Our environment pays the price for plastic, and so do consumers

It’s the plastics industry’s worst-kept secret: a huge percentage of their products are designed to be used once then thrown away -- and yet it’s us, the consumers, who are left to pay for the cleanup.

It’s the plastics industry’s worst-kept secret: a huge percentage of their products are designed to be used once then thrown away -- and yet it’s us, the consumers, who are left to pay for the cleanup.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Instead, we can make plastics producers financially responsible for the plastic waste their products become. Producer responsibility legislation will completely alter the current plastic product life cycle.

Here’s how that life cycle works right now:

  1. Companies manufacture and sell us plastic products meant to be used once and then thrown away.
  2. Consumers use these products as they’re intended and toss them in the recycling or trash bin, while some leak into the environment.
  3. But who pays to manage and dispose of that waste? Us, the consumers.

Meanwhile, both our local communities and other countries we send our waste to are left to deal with the environmental costs. And because the plastics producers don’t have to deal with the end-of-life costs of the waste their products become, they have no incentive to stop making more plastic and transition to more sustainable alternatives.

By putting the costs of waste disposal back onto the shoulders of plastic producers, producer responsibility legislation will encourage plastic manufacturers to adopt more environmentally friendly plastic alternatives, for it will be in their best financial interest. With producer responsibility laws, manufacturers would be financially responsible for the waste they create and would bear responsibility for the collection and proper disposal of those products at the end of their useful lives.

By holding producers accountable for the waste they create, state governments can motivate plastic manufacturers to design their products to be more environmentally friendly throughout their lifecycle. We can shift to a circular economy that rewards sustainability with producer responsibility legislation that incentivizes the construction of products built to last and proper recycling of remaining materials. We can take the next step toward a zero-waste society.