Giving Compass' Take:
- Jim Erickson shares insights from environmental engineer Shelie Miller who myths about single-use plastic and urges consumers and scientists to be critical of the environmental impacts of the facets that go into making products beyond their packaging.
- Miller explains that while it's good to tackle single-use plastic in addressing plastic waste, consumers should examine other factors that also impact the environment (such as extraction and energy consumption in making the products.)
- Read 10 facts about plastic pollution you need to know.
What is Giving Compass?
We connect donors to learning resources and ways to support community-led solutions. Learn more about us.
Most of the environmental impacts of many consumer products, including soft drinks, are tied to the products inside, not the packaging, according to University of Michigan environmental engineer Shelie Miller.
The mistaken belief about the central role of plastic packaging is one of five myths that Miller attempts to debunk in her new research. The five common misperceptions, along with Miller’s insights about them, are:
- Plastic packaging is the largest contributor to a product’s environmental impact. In reality, the product inside the package usually has a much greater environmental impact.
- The environmental impacts of plastics are greater than any other packaging material. Actually, plastic generally has lower overall environmental impacts than single-use glass or metal in most impact categories.
- Reusable products are always better than single-use plastics. Actually, reusable products have lower environmental impacts only when they are reused enough times to offset the materials and energy used to make them.
- Recycling and composting should be the highest priority. Truth be told, the environmental benefits associated with recycling and composting tend to be small when compared with efforts to reduce overall consumption.
- “Zero waste” efforts that eliminate single-use plastics minimize the environmental impacts of an event. In reality, the benefits of diverting waste from the landfill are small. Waste reduction and mindful consumption, including a careful consideration of the types and quantities of products consumed, are far larger factors dictating the environmental impact of an event.
In her review article, Miller challenges beliefs unsupported by current scientific knowledge while urging other environmental scientists and engineers to broaden the conversation—in their own research and in discussions that shape public policy.
Miller stresses that she is not trying to downplay environmental concerns associated with plastics and plastic waste. But to place the plastic-waste problem in proper context, it’s critical to examine the environmental impacts that occur at every stage of a product’s lifetime—from the extraction of natural resources and the energy needed to make the item to its ultimate disposal or reuse.
Read the full article about myths about single-use plastic by Jim Erickson at Futurity.