Plastic usage has become part of our daily lifestyle, one carried out with little afterthought. At school deli alone, the amount used is staggering. I went around last week to ask roughly how many Oriented Polypropylene laminated (OPP) bags are used every day to pack various baked goods we line up to buy. The closest thing to an answer I got was that the use varies by day. So I resorted to counting myself. Fresh bread and cookies come out once in the morning and periodically from lunch until 3PM. By my estimate, the school deli uses more than 200 bags every day. And that’s not including the plastic tops on macaroons or the shrink wrap used for cupbops.
In a broader light, it is no understatement that our planet is in crisis. A recent UN report painted a grim picture of the Earth’s future if climate change proceeds at its current pace. It predicts that by as soon as 2040, the atmosphere will heat up to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit above preindustrial level, and we will be living amidst flooded coastlines, intensifying natural disasters (droughts, hurricanes, wildfires), and mass food shortages. Even a report written under the Trump administration—whose own EPA administrator once lobbied on behalf of the coal industry against Obama’s environmental regulations —calls for significant action on global warming.
The main cause of global warming is the release of greenhouse gases. Thankfully, there have been and are efforts to curb human production of these gases. International frameworks like the Kyoto Protocol, Montreal Protocol, or the Paris Agreement phase out the use and production of gases like CFC and carbon dioxide. The “Green New Deal”—an economic stimulus policy designed to promote renewable energy—is being seriously considered by the Democratic Party and may even have a part in its future platform. If any changes come in 2019, it better be dealing with preserving the health of our planet.
New research found that plastic, when exposed to solar radiation, releases two powerful greenhouse gases: methane and ethylene. Plastic pollution in and of itself has been posing a considerable threat to wildlife. Birds inadvertently feed on floating plastic in water, mistaking it for food. Scientists are also concerned that, because plastic cannot biodegrade, microscopic plastic pieces could permanently alter marine and terrestrial environments and the stomach of wildlife. Plastic particles would then move up and infiltrate the food chain.
South Korean government has been one of the leading voices for curbing plastic use. Since last summer, plastic cups have been banned for in-store customers at all cafes in Korea. A recent law bans handing out single-use plastic bags for free at major supermarkets.
But as much as government regulations and corporate decisions can do, at a time when actions of “no documented historic precedent” are needed, more is demanded to restore the health of our environment and avoid a cataclysmic point of no return. Changes also need to come from individuals.
Curbing meat consumption can reduce methane. Taking public transportation rather than driving or taking a taxi reduces carbon dioxide. Using less electricity and paper products also curbs pollutants. And here’s something our school should do.
Unless we are taking the snack to class, it doesn’t take long until the plastic bag from the deli gets discarded. Often, the bags get immediately thrown away in the trashcan by the door across the ID card kiosk or the one in front of the PAC. This is the literal definition of single-use: the direct pipeline from the cafeteria to the trashcan, in less than 5 minutes.
Instead, how about we get our croissants on a piece of deli paper—or even just regular tissue? Sometimes, plastic bags are also used for goods that don’t need them—we especially don’t need hotdogs to be served in plastic bags. Although conventional deli paper has a petroleum-based wax coating on it and is not recyclable, it is biodegradable, making it far more environmentally friendly than plastic. Paper with vegetable waxes is even better, producing less toxic waste in the production stage.
The deli should still offer the plastic bag—but only when asked. Sure, it might hold up the line a bit, but is a few seconds of extra wait time too big a price when our home planet’s health is eroding every day? It’s time for our careless culture of routine plastic use to stop. We can start at the deli.
– Chris H. Park (‘20)
Featured Image: Korea International School