The only thing worse than being lied to is not knowing you’re being lied to. It’s true that plastic pollution is a huge problem, of planetary proportions. And it’s true we could all do more to reduce our plastic footprint. The lie is that blame for the plastic problem is wasteful consumers and that changing our individual habits will fix it.
Recycling plastic is to saving the Earth what hammering a nail is to halting a falling skyscraper. You struggle to find a place to do it and feel pleased when you succeed. But your effort is wholly inadequate and distracts from the real problem of why the building is collapsing in the first place. The real problem is that single-use plastic—the very idea of producing plastic items like grocery bags, which we use for an average of 12 minutes but can persist in the environment for half a millennium—is an incredibly reckless abuse of technology. Encouraging individuals to recycle more will never solve the problem of a massive production of single-use plastic that should have been avoided in the first place.
As an ecologist and evolutionary biologist, I have had a disturbing window into the accumulating literature on the hazards of plastic pollution. Scientists have long recognized that plastics biodegrade slowly, if at all, and pose multiple threats to wildlife through entanglement and consumption. More recent reports highlight dangers posed by absorption of toxic chemicals in the water and by plastic odors that mimic some species’ natural food. Plastics also accumulate up the food chain, and studies now show that we are likely ingesting it ourselves in seafood. . . .
Beginning in the 1950s, big beverage companies like Coca-Cola and Anheuser-Busch, along with Phillip Morris and others, formed a non-profit called Keep America Beautiful. Its mission is/was to educate and encourage environmental stewardship in the public. . . . At face value, these efforts seem benevolent, but they obscure the real problem, which is the role that corporate polluters play in the plastic problem. This clever misdirection has led journalist and author Heather Rogers to describe Keep America Beautiful as the first corporate greenwashing front, as it has helped shift the public focus to consumer recycling behavior and actively thwarted legislation that would increase extended producer responsibility for waste management. . . . [T]he greatest success of Keep America Beautiful has been to shift the onus of environmental responsibility onto the public while simultaneously becoming a trusted name in the environmental movement. . . .
So what can we do to make responsible use of plastic a reality? First: reject the lie. Litterbugs are not responsible for the global ecological disaster of plastic. Humans can only function to the best of their abilities, given time, mental bandwidth and systemic constraints. Our huge problem with plastic is the result of a permissive legal framework that has allowed the uncontrolled rise of plastic pollution, despite clear evidence of the harm it causes to local communities and the world’s oceans. Recycling is also too hard in most parts of the U.S. and lacks the proper incentives to make it work well.
Q.1 It can be inferred that the author considers the Keep America Beautiful organisation:
- a “greenwash” because it was a benevolent attempt to improve public recycling habits.
- an innovative example of a collaborative corporate social responsibility initiative.
- an important step in sensitising producers to the need to tackle plastics pollution.
- a sham as it diverted attention away from the role of corporates in plastics pollution.
Q.2 In the first paragraph, the author uses “lie” to refer to the:
- understatement of the effects of recycling plastics.
- understatement of the enormity of the plastics pollution problem.
- blame assigned to consumers for indiscriminate use of plastics.
- fact that people do not know they have been lied to.
Q.3 The author lists all of the following as negative effects of the use of plastics EXCEPT the:
- slow pace of degradation or non-degradation of plastics in the environment.
- air pollution caused during the process of recycling plastics.
- adverse impacts on the digestive systems of animals exposed to plastic.
- poisonous chemicals released into the water and food we consume.
Q.4 In the second paragraph, the phrase “what hammering a nail is to halting a falling skyscraper” means:
- relying on emerging technologies to mitigate the ill-effects of plastic pollution.
- encouraging the responsible production of plastics by firms.
- focusing on single-use plastic bags to reduce the plastics footprint.
- focusing on consumer behaviour to tackle the problem of plastics pollution.
Q.5 Which of the following interventions would the author most strongly support:
- completely banning all single-use plastic bags.
- recycling all plastic debris in the seabed.
- having all consumers change their plastic consumption habits.
- passing regulations targeted at producers that generate plastic products.
Q1: Option (4)
Q2: Option (3)
Q3: Option (2)
Q4: Option (4)
Q5: Option (4)
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