Environmental Concerns About the Single-Use Plastics

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Environmental concerns have now more than ever been at the forefront of social and political consciousness. With the clock ticking on an exponentially growing and dangerous catastrophe, now is the time to be vigilant about the solutions put in effect to counteract this rapid degradation. One current issue making headlines involves the country’s reliance on single use plastics. While the conversation regarding single use plastics is monopolized largely by federal and state legislation, they aren’t the only governing bodies within the country that must participate in such conversations. The single use plastic dilemma has left a considerable amount of tribal communities to their own devices in terms of regulation for what works best for their community.

A single-use plastic is a disposable plastic that is used once until they are recycled or thrown away. Single-use plastics like straws and plastic bags contribute to alarming rates of pollution that eventually drastically affects wildlife, the ocean and human livelihood. Each year, the United States produces 300 million tonnes of plastic waste, unfortunately, only 47% of it is able to be recycled. Furthermore, the recycle rate of significantly lower, dwarfed at 20% (Plastic Free Challenge). The regrettable reality of plastics that are also petroleum based is their hazardous inability to recycle easily. There would have to be additional systems of process in place in order to recycle completely.

This substance is also not biodegradable, so their presence in landfills is to the likely detriment of sensitive natural spaces in nearby areas. Instead of breaking down completely in the soil, the waste will eventually form into microplastics and release toxic chemicals that will subsequently find their way into water and food supply. The effect this has on humans and animals alike is deadly, which can also cause birth defects, cancer, and infertility (Plastic Free Challenge). The current dependence on single-use plastics has been to the detriment of the most important stakeholders of the problem. The perceived economic advantages to using them compared to other alternatives is no longer a sound argument in defense of the opposition.

Legislation toward single-use plastics have been largely slow in terms of progress across the country. Being that it is such a divisive topic, it’s understandable that federal legislation would be very slow to come to fruition. This has left more local municipalities on the decision making front in terms of how they plan to strategize with their proposed solutions. In addition to these, businesses and large corporations with CSR efforts that they plan to execute promptly. Unfortunately, certain states have taken a stance that are directly counterproductive to the efforts of a greener earth. Multiple states have proposed bills that effectively ban local governments from making any single-use plastic legislation. Reasoning behind this push lie within the lobbying of certain interests to state governments in order to protect certain industries that rely on the consumption of single-use plastics (Press, The Associated).

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In contrast, an example of the effective measures that can happen when more local municipalities have the power to make such decisions and is thriving is exactly what in place for Indian tribes across the country. The Navajo Nation is leading the way in the push for plastic bans. The size of their nation may also work in favor of their influence to other tribes with their legislature with a population of more than 200,000 citizens. They proposed an initial plastic bag ban on retailers in 2015 but was rejected in favor of more research for the result of a more robust process of review.

With their advanced environmental organization, Navajo Nation EPA, they are using this to create sturdy policies regarding plastic and styrofoam bans for their community (The Regulatory Review). The nation believes that as stewards of the earth, their community has an obligation to the preservation of it despite the actions of humans. This is reflected in their dedication to a cleaner environment for future generations to come.

The very significant work that these tribes are taking on act as a great model for other endeavors that have efforts for the push of plastic bans. In addition to the shining example of the Navajo nation, there are other illustrations of the push for environmental consciousness for tribes. In the realm of casino legislation, a handful of Florida casinos of the Seminole tribe have banned the use of plastic bags and straws (Indianz). Similarly, casinos in Michigan have enlisted a green initiative, which pledges to eliminate single-use plastics from tribal events and eventually casinos. These battles are unfortunately not so cut and dry when it comes to the push for environmental policies under tribal laws and regulation. While still seeking to enact plastic bans, native tribes in Alaska regrettably face obstacles and roadblocks that make their path much more arduous than their non-government regulated counterparts. Due to Alaska’s abundance of control over tribes, Native villages have a control of internal affairs but have overall lack of control on territorial judicial power. The sad reality of this that the Annette Island Reserve is the only reservation in Alaska with full judicial control with the ability to govern themselves (The Regulatory Review). Plastic bag bans unfortunately are something that are currently out of their arbitration, but they are still vigilant in their efforts and are pivoting towards alternative scales for environmental conscious efforts on more grassroots levels.

With the public push for environmentally conscious policies that seek to ban single-use plastics, municipalities seeking for examples for judicial models can look favorably to Indian tribes. It would be foolish not to recognize such Native tribes and villages as innovators in a space that has since been stagnant and uninspiring in the last few years. The battle for environmental and climate change eco-policy is at a very crucial fork in the road for the livelihood of the planet, and effectively, humanity. With the clock quiet literally ticking on the change of environment legislation, now is the time more than ever to have a collective mindset and effort drastically shift the trajectory in which climate change is currently in. The most glaring juxtaposition of course lies within the Native tribes and their history of dealing with the adverse social and environmental effects of the outside worlds while simultaneously acting as the ideal pillar in the push for more stringent eco-policy.

Without their precedent and influence, the conversation for regulation of single-use plastics would be a quiet and bleak one. Though there are corporations with pledges to reduce their use, they don’t necessarily surpass the significance of communities and municipalities uniting for a greater cause. The majority of plastic and styrofoam waste is supplied by small independent businesses and restaurants. First targeting these distributors to invoke an understanding and care for a healthier earth despite the possible economic restraints that may be placed due to plastic alternatives. As a country, we need to follow the lead of Indian tribes and their excellence of environmental conscious interests.

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