What is plastic pollution?
Plastic pollution is the accumulation of plastic in the environment that negatively impacts humans, animals, and ecosystems. Plastic pollution is a global environmental crisis, and plastics have been found nearly everywhere on Earth, from the highest mountain peak to the deepest ocean trench.
Plastic is made up of synthetic polymers, or very large molecules, that are primarily derived from petroleum and natural gas. It is a highly useful group of materials which are moldable, durable, water-resistant, and relatively inexpensive to manufacture. These qualities have caused an explosion in the production, use, and disposal of plastic.
Plastic waste is highly problematic because it is so resistant to environmental degradation, meaning it does not readily break down in the environment. Rather than breaking down into naturally-occurring elements, plastics break down into smaller fragments until they eventually become microplastics, which are found in air, water, and soil. Plastic waste in the environment can release toxic chemicals and accumulate in the food chain, harming both humans and animals.
Only 9% of plastic waste has ever been recycled. Single-use plastics are a major contributor to plastic waste. Single-use plastic includes packaging, wrappers, bags, bottles, straws, and other items that are designed to be used once and then discarded. This not only produces a huge amount of waste, it also necessitates the continued production of plastic that will never effectively biodegrade.
To make matters worse, plastic recycling doesn’t work. There are thousands of types of plastics, making sorting and processing logistically and economically impractical. Plastic is also flammable and absorbs toxic chemicals, making it dangerous to recycle.
The best solution we have is to reduce the amount of plastic used in the first place.
How does plastic pollution affect humans and the environment?
Plastic is hazardous to humans and the environment throughout its entire life cycle. Plastic production and recycling have been linked to increased risk of numerous diseases, including lung and cardiovascular diseases and brain, breast, lung, and bladder cancer. Pollution from production and disposal facilities affects nearby communities, increasing the risk of premature birth, low birth weight, childhood leukemia, and other diseases.
Plastics used in consumer products often include toxic additives such as phthalates, BPA, and PVC. Among these chemicals are endocrine disruptors which, according to The Endocrine Society, “disturb the body’s hormone systems and can cause cancer, diabetes, reproductive disorders, neurological impairments of developing fetuses and children, and death.” Plastics also absorb and concentrate toxic chemicals from the environment, increasing their toxicity to animals and humans.
Plastic waste in the environment breaks down into increasingly smaller particles that carry these concentrated toxins to every corner of the planet. Microplastics are increasingly being consumed by humans and animals through food, water, and even the air we breathe.
What can be done to stop plastic pollution?
Plastic pollution is a complex global issue that will require a concerted effort from a vast coalition of stakeholders to solve. Solutions tend to focus on either production or disposal.
At Meliora Cleaning Products, we believe that the best approach is to turn off plastic pollution at the source by eliminating as much plastic production as possible. We design our cleaning products and packaging without single-use plastic. That means no dissolvable pods or sheets, plastic jugs, bottles, caps, wrappers, liners, styrofoam, or tape. The only plastic in our product line comes with our reusable products. Our glass spray bottle has a plastic sprayer and laminated label, and our bulk powders come in plastic buckets you can return to us to be reused for the next person.
In addition to making plastic-free cleaning products, we use our platform as a business to support regulatory action to reduce plastic pollution.
We support a global plastic treaty
In February 2022, the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) adopted a resolution to “end plastic pollution” by developing “an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution” by the end of 2024. The Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) was created to fulfill UNEA Resolution 5/14 by creating a global plastics treaty through a series of five working meetings. The first meeting, INC-1, was held last winter in Punta del Este, Uraguay. INC-2 is convening from May 29 through June 2 this year in Paris, France.
The global plastics treaty is analogous to the international Paris Agreement on climate change. It signifies a significant effort in international cooperation to address the global plastic pollution crisis at all levels throughout the plastic life cycle.
Participating countries, including the United States, are sending delegates to INC-2. While businesses and nonprofits are not directly involved in the negotiations, many are still providing input through position statements and participation in coalitions. Meliora Cleaning Products participates in two coalitions formed around the treaty:
- The Business Coalition for a Global Plastics Treaty “brings together businesses and financial institutions committed to supporting the development of an ambitious, effective and legally binding UN treaty to end plastic pollution.” The Business Coalition envisions a circular economy for plastics that can only be achieved through a combination of reduction, circulation, prevention, and remediation of plastics throughout the life cycle. Its policy recommendations for INC-2 emphasize the need for “legally-binding global rules and measures to drive change on a global scale” and “harmonised regulations on reduction, circulation, and prevention alongside remediation.” In other words, the Business Coalition calls for clearly defined regulations for businesses rather than guidelines or recommendations.
- The Innovation Alliance for a Global Plastics Treaty is a “global alliance of solutionists combating plastic pollution” that aims to “promote the role of innovation, technology, and entrepreneurship in the Global Plastics Treaty.” The Innovation Alliance’s policy priorities include promoting, funding, and scaling the innovative work that startups, entrepreneurs, and others are already implementing to move the needle on plastic pollution.
Prevent plastic pollution with plastic-free cleaning products
Ending the plastic pollution crisis will require both top-down action by governments and institutions and bottom-up action by individuals. The Global Plastics Treaty presents a historic opportunity for international cooperation to end plastic pollution. It has the potential to introduce legally-binding regulations for the production, use, and disposal of plastic around the world. Meanwhile, people refusing to buy and use single-use plastics decreases demand for their production. One change you can make is to choose plastic-free cleaning products. Consider the impact of these plastic-free swaps:
Plastic-free laundry detergent
Instead of buying a big plastic jug every time you need laundry detergent, buy a paper-and-steel canister of Laundry Powder from us once, then buy refills packed in paper bags.
Plastic-free dish soap
Replace disposable plastic bottles full of dish soap with concentrated solid bars of our Dish Soap, available in paperboard boxes or completely package-free.
Plastic-free hand soap
The next time you run out of hand soap, try our Foaming Hand Soap Refill Tablets instead of liquid refills from a plastic bottle.
Plastic-free all-purpose cleaner
Rather than buying a new plastic spray bottle when you run out of all-purpose cleaner, buy a single glass bottle once and refill it with concentrated All-Purpose Home Cleaner Refill Tablets packed in paperboard boxes.
Plastic-free stain remover
Treat stains before washing with our Soap Stick Stain Remover, a concentrated solid bar of soap that comes in a recyclable paperboard box. It’s a great alternative to liquid stain removers in plastic spray bottles.