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Smart Take | Earth Day 2024 Calls for Planet Over Plastics!

April 19, 20242:06

This year’s Earth Day theme—“Planet vs. Plastic”—calls for a 60% reduction in plastic use by 2040. The billions of items of plastic waste that pollute oceans, lakes, and rivers, are also making their way into food systems, resulting in a direct threat to human health. Jennifer Turner, Director of the Wilson Center’s China Environment Forum, provides insights into how we can reduce plastic waste. She talks about what individuals can do, how Europe is setting the standard for responsible plastic use at a company-level, and why we can’t recycle our way out of the eight billion tons of plastic we have created during the past sixty years.

The China Environment Forum and Serious Games Initiative have created an educational video game called, The Plastic Pipeline. The Plastic Pipeline takes players through points on the ‘lifecycle’ of a single-use plastic product to empower them to learn about policies being used to fight it. 

Video Transcript

  • This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

    It is hard to break free from plastic in our lives, but as individuals, we can take some steps. But it's also important to inform ourselves and maybe advocate for the kind of policies and laws that could reduce the waste. Because we ultimately, as taxpayers, are paying for all of the waste collection, the sorting, the incineration, so decreasing that it's a win win. 

    We often talk about how the individual can do things. It's true. As individuals, we can reduce our single use plastic footprint. You could bring your own mug, your own bag. You can use bars of shampoo and bars of conditioner to break free of some other kinds of single use plastic. 

    At the company level it's going to demand redesigned eco design. And it is happening. There's one espresso maker that has pods that are made of aluminum and provides consumers with mail in bags. So when you finish making all the espressos and getting yourself jazzed up, you put this in the bag, mail it back, and the company recycles the aluminum and compost the coffee. So they have closed the loop and taken responsibility of their own packaging. 

    I think that the US and other countries should look to Europe. They have very strict laws on enhanced producer responsibility for companies. That means that the companies are required to often take back their packaging design it in a way that makes it easier to recycle, have less layers, have sometimes, I think, beginning to start to talk about having fewer chemicals in them that could harm us when we use these products. Europe is the gold standard. There's just not enough of a recycling market for so many of these plastic products. The plastic is too thin shaped in ways that makes it difficult to recycle. So we cannot recycle our way out of this problem.


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Jennifer L. Turner

Director, China Environment Forum
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China Environment Forum

Since 1997, the China Environment Forum's mission has been to forge US-China cooperation on energy, environment, and sustainable development challenges. We play a unique nonpartisan role in creating multi-stakeholder dialogues around these issues.  Read more