Addressing the single-use plastic proliferation problem

Matthew Pearson* and Eesha Khare

Edited by Omar Tantawi and Bertrand J. Neyhouse

Article | Aug. 29 2022


DOI: 10.38105/spr.ro3uhoc2lz


  • The generation of an alarming degree of plastic waste has spurred action to mitigate the environmental consequences of plastic waste buildup
  • A multifaceted policy approach addressing the full lifecycle of plastics from production to disposal offers numerous routes to effectively contend with the plastic waste problem
  • In addition to regulatory and economic government policies, changes in consumer behavior and movement toward a closed-loop system through long-term investments could aid plastic waste mitigation and lead to innovation in sustainable materials and waste management technology

Article Summary

Despite the integral role of plastics in modern society, effective management of plastic waste has remained unaddressed, even as the rate of plastic waste accumulation continues to accelerate. The vast majority of plastic waste has a slow degradation rate, leading to harmful environmental consequences, particularly for marine ecosystems, and may potentially have human health impacts. As a result, policymakers have begun taking action in recent years, with a focus on banning single-use plastics. While single-use plastic bans have seemingly become the preferred policy response, there is debate regarding whether they are universally the optimal policy solution. This article reviews current implementations of these bans and examines the associated environmental trade-offs. It then presents a set of potential alternative or supplemental policy options with a focus on the importance of addressing the entirety of the plastic value chain in the development of policies to grapple with the plastic waste problem.

Open Access


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Matthew Pearson

Department of Chemistry, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA

Eesha Khare

Department of Materials Science and Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA