Why Ban Plastic?

Some jurisdictions have tried and failed at banning certain kinds of plastic. Why?

First, substitution just creates trash of a different kind: Instead of littering plastic bottles, people litter aluminum cans. For example, after San Francisco banned single-use Styrofoam takeout containers, litter from other materials increased. That is why each person must have a recycling mentality.

Public policy proposals are often based on faulty premises. Consider, for example, that a recent study finds that 90% of plastic ocean pollution from rivers comes from 10 rivers in Asia and Africa. Chinese cargo ships are estimated to be responsible for over 70% of Atlantic trash. A 2015 study of plastic ocean waste found that the entire U.S. is responsible for less than 1% of plastic ocean garbage. China alone is responsible for 28%. And the Great Pacific Garbage Patch we’ve all heard about? According to National Geographic, “the patch is mostly abandoned fishing gear,” not bottles. We should recycle to keep America clean, but the facts about what is achievable also matter.

America has an aging water infrastructure system that puts millions of Americans at risk. Roughly 10 million American homes use lead pipes in their tap water supply. Purified water is needed in those areas that have bad tap systems, as experienced during the Flint, Michigan and Newark, New Jersey water crises.

The shelf life of plastic water bottles makes them a critical tool in survival kits, especially during natural disasters. Water systems are often compromised during hurricanes, leaving thousands, and sometimes millions, of people without the most critical survival tool–clean drinking water. However, plastic bottles solve this as they are easily transportable, remain fresh, and can be stored away for decades. Other materials are heavier and cost more—and use more fossil fuel energy—to transport and manufacture.