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Fields & Applications Environmental

When Technology Bites Back

Plastic pollution exists in our oceans, our food chains, and our bodies – nobody wants it, and yet it is building every day. Eliminating plastic pollution is hardly rocket science, but it requires courage and political action reaching the very apex of the world’s power structures.

Like many of the pressing problems the world faces, plastic pollution is a symptom of other issues. All too often, a perceived solution creates yet another problem because there are feedback loops that we are unaware of. Things are often not as they appear on first examination, which will come as no surprise to analytical chemists.

A world free of plastic pollution will require large shifts not only in how we design, produce and consume products, but also in the world’s underlying financial and economic infrastructure. What’s more, these shifts need to be global. No environmental problem in history has been solved without strong regulation. However, simply complying with the current array of regulations is not enough, because pollution is still increasing in spite of these regulations. We can see some early micro-sized attempts at regulation of single-use plastics in Europe, and a proposed phase-out of intentionally added plastic particles in down-the-drain products and such. But if we proceed at a pace of regulating 10 disposable plastic articles at a time, the entire process may take millennia.

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About the Author

Heather A. Leslie

Department of Environment and Health, Faculty of Science, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

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