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Essay

Clara Park

Year-Prize: The 11th Eco-generation Environmental Essay Competition     Item: Beat Plastic Pollution

Comments 6 Comments    recommendations 0 recommendations

Calling All Plasticarians!

 

Clara Park (Republic of Korea)

Honorable Mention
 


"Dog food, leash, and… here! Dog poop plastic bags!” I checked the last item off my list for my best friend, Ceasar, a cuddly schnauzer, and shuffled out of the store. On my way back home, Ceasar’s nose busily sniffed the bushes as if he were trying to catch a thief. However, what he came upon was not a thief, but a perfect place to do his business. “What a detective,” I moaned sarcastically, as I tugged out a plastic bag. When Ceasar was finished, I reached out to pick up his waste, only then to wonder where to dispose of it. Back home in Virginia, I never had this problem: Ceasar always did his business in our backyard and his waste worked as a terrific fertilizer!
 
When I got home, the pungent odor of the full plastic bag reminded me that I still needed to throw it away, but where? The first thought that occurred to me was the food-waste trashcan, but I was hesitant. So, I browsed the Internet, first checking the South Korean Ministry of Environment's website, and scrolled through its list of policies, hoping to find an answer. As I read further, I began to realize that the question at hand was not as simple as deciding where to throw away plastic waste. Instead, the true issue was reducing the number of plastics we use.
 
To achieve this, I thought that there are only two options: recycling or replacing. The website stated that it is a policy to clean used plastic in order for it to be recycled. If anything is in the plastic, such as food scraps, dirt, or chemicals, it can’t be recycled and must be buried underground, burned, or sunk at sea. But, this did not surprise me since I created a media project last year that involved recycling plastics. For the video component, I interviewed my apartment manager, Mr. Kim, about problems concerning recycling trash. One major complaint was that residents did not clean their plastics before recycling them. In spite of the rules, people seemed to disregard the policy and in many instances, our efforts failed to result in actual recycled goods.
 
As for the other option – replacing plastics, I started to explore various materials that could substitute for Ceasar’s plastic bags. The use of biodegradable plastics has been frequently proposed to help decrease the number of plastics suffocating our environment. Upon further research, I found that they were not only widely available but also much faster at decomposing. Could this be the solution to the plastic problem? The answer to my question was quickly provided when I came across a UN report that highlighted the issues of marine plastic litter. It offered a number of alternatives to plastics, but biodegradable plastics were not a recommended option (2018, UN Environment). I delved deeper and found that when biodegradable plastics decompose, they release chemicals derived from additives that are just as harmful as the ones intrinsic to regular plastics. So, even if biodegradable plastics can decompose faster, the damaging effects persist.
 
I concluded that finding an alternative to plastics was certainly not an easy path, especially after identifying plastic objects that can’t be easily replaced. For instance, Ceasar’s disposable syringes, used to inject his medicine to prevent blood clots, are irreplaceable. To me, those small plastic syringes helped save my friend. Similarly, there are many other plastic items in our daily lives that can’t be easily replaced due to their important roles. The functionality of plastics that we’ve assigned to them makes it difficult to abandon them completely. Since the plastic objects also need to be disposed, the best options are recycling them as much as possible and investing in the research for alternative materials. Advancing past convention is no easy task, and it’s not because of a lack of agreement on the facts, but a lack of will to act on them. Willpower is derived from people's enthusiasm, and the part I can play is to spark some enthusiasm among the people around me.
 
Every Wednesday and Sunday, my community holds a recycling venue, where all apartment residents collect their recyclable trash and sort them in certain categories. As a first step towards change, I made a banner that reminded residents to clean plastics before disposing of. In addition, I decided to help Mr. Kim pick out dirty recyclables. This pile would be separately cleaned and recycled at the next venue. At home, I emptied and cleaned Ceasar’s bag to recycle, and substituted the other plastic bags with paper ones that decompose with the waste.

By replacing and recycling, the world will be two steps closer to a safer and cleaner environment.

6 Comments

Manjesh Jha

  • Manjesh Jha says :
    Congratulations clara.
    Posted 31-10-2018 19:55

Aman Gangwar

  • Aman Gangwar says :
    COngrats clara.
    Posted 31-10-2018 19:41

Kajal Saini

  • Kajal Saini says :
    Congratulations Clara.
    Posted 26-10-2018 13:01

Clara Park

  • Clara Park says :
    Thank you so much! Congrats to you guys, too!!!
    Posted 26-10-2018 00:20

Archa B Jayan

Viraaj Kulshreshtha

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