Arizona State University, the Conservation Innovation lab and SWATlab ASU research labs want to extend a unique opportunity to participate in a study and help fill in the research gap for effective policymaking! All you need to do is click on the link provided and complete a 12-minute survey. https://forms.gle/KMLuouVvaZWUU3VW8. Your answers will remain publicly anonymous and your choice to participate has no impact on your position with ASU. This survey aims to determine the single-use plastic (SUP) footprint of ASU and non-ASU affiliated individuals. The SUP footprint will serve as a referral tool for institutions and governments when designing plastic-related policies that are shaped specifically to the city’s plastic consumption, management and perception. We encourage you to share this link with fellow ASU affiliates as well! Thank you for taking the time to read this article and we hope you take the opportunity to fill out our survey!
Please read more to understand the importance and implications of this research!
Imagine the scent of ocean-water filling your nostrils and wind whipping past your cheeks as you’re cruising towards the beach; but, instead of riding in a car you’re in a big, green garbage truck. After a busy day, you inhale the deepest breath possible from the open window and eagerly anticipate burying each foot under the warm sand. As the garbage truck driver approaches the beach, he passes the parking lot and drives directly to the shoreline. Perplexed, you watch the weight of the tires leave tracks in the sand but disregard the oddity when you hear seabirds chattering. Finally, the truck stops moving and you can leap out! Before you can sprint to the water a reversal alarm booms, “BEEP BEEP BEEP!” and yellow lights flash from the truck. You dart out of the truck’s path as it backs up and watch the garbage box rise to dump its contents. Candy wrappers, Walmart grocery bags, Gatorade bottles, Camel cigarette butts- any conceivable type of plastic trash pours from the bin. The plastic stream runs into the ocean like a river and mixes with the waves creating a plastic-slurry. You watch as the ocean-plastic slurry slowly disappears to the open sea. Now, imagine if two garbage trucks discarded their full bins at the shoreline every minute of every day! That’s 24.2 metric tonnes of plastic trash- the same weight as either combining four African elephants or ten average U.S. cars. Unfortunately, the scenario painted before above isn’t too far from reality.
In the U.S., garbage trucks don’t empty their trash into the ocean. However, the amount of plastic that two dump trucks can carry is equivalent to the quantity of plastic escaping into the environment in every minute of the day. In 2010, a study estimated 4.8-12.7 million metric tonnes of plastic entered the ocean annually. At this fixed rate, there will be more plastic pollutants than fish in the ocean by 2050. The detrimental impacts plastic pollution has on the health of surrounding wildlife and the ability of organisms to thrive in their ecosystems are no longer unknown. Social media exposed videos of animals entangled in plastic bags and sea turtles with plastic straws embedded in their nostrils. Scientists have investigated seabirds starving from accidentally ingesting plastic waste; consequently, filling their stomachs with indigestible materials. On the human health aspect, researchers discovered plastic contaminants act as endocrine disruptors in the body and can lead to disorders. Additionally, plastic pollution strains local economies when municipalities are forced to pay for cleanups or remedy damages inflicted by the pollution. If plastic trash is mismanaged in the waste stream, then solid waste management facilities need to allocate a portion of their budget to properly dispose of citizens’ plastic garbage. More so, discarding plastic into landfills shortens the landfill’s lifespan and requires the local government to pay for new landfills sooner than predicted. With all these issues in mind, it’s essential to monitor the amount and type of plastic polluting our environment.
In an attempt to slow the rate of plastic pollution, cities and institutions are hastily committing to alter their consumption of single-use plastic products. For example, banning single-use plastic straws. However, policymakers neglect to consider a city’s unique single-use plastic footprint and citizen’s waste management behaviors when implementing resolution policies. Yet, considering the behaviors of local citizens is a major step in creating effective policies. Decision-makers are constrained to consulting coastal city studies when creating policies for their local society even if the city isn’t near the coast. This is because a research gap exists between investigating plastic pollution in marine systems and plastic pollution in non-marine systems. The goal of this study is to begin filling the gap with research investigating the life cycle of single-use plastic in non-coastal ecosystems. This survey aims to determine an individual’s single-use plastic (SUP) footprint by looking at the individual’s consumption and disposal habits of single-use plastics. The SUP footprint will serve as a referral tool for institutions and governments when designing plastic-related policies that are shaped specifically to the city’s plastic consumption, management and perception. Further, it acts as a call to action for additional plastic pollution researchers to investigate plastic pollution in non-coastal ecosystems.