Unlike climate change, which is a vague vast and apocalyptic, plastic is smaller and more tangible. It’s something in everyone’s daily life. It’s something we interact with. We can touch, we feel, and we throw out.
The appeal of the plastic monument is also fueled by a sense people have that they’ve joined an insurgent social movement and a political campaign.
For businesses, there are opportunities to be found in this as well. Clever new businesses are figuring out that they can win new customers by offering new plastic alternatives. For example, in 2015, when marine biologist Christine Filmner filmed her team removing a plastic straw stuck in a sea turtles nose, it galvanized a huge corporate movement to eliminate plastic straws from our day to day lives.
Institutions and politicians can also find the taking a stand against plastic is an easy way to win over public approval. Whatever their politicial motivations, the public backlash has undoubtedly brought a serious environmental problem to the attention at the highest levels of governments and businesses and convince them that it’s a winning issue. For example, the plastic reaction to the turtle with a straw up its nose also fueled public policies such as Seattle’s ban on plastic straws and campaigns to raise awareness of the negative impact of single use plastic items.
The United Nations has declared a war on single use plastic. In Britain, Theresa May has called plastic a scourge and committed the government to a 25 year plan that would phase out disposable packaging by 2042. India also claims it will do the same, but by 2022.
Following the BBC Blue Planet segment on plastic Tom McDonald – head of commissioning at the BBC – noted that people didn’t just want to talk about this episode, which is the usual, “they were asking us how to fix things”. Over the next few days. politicians fielded calls and received a flood of emails from the constituents who felt moved to action by the program.
Based on how governments and institutions have reacted, and continue to respond, you could make an argument that the anti-plastic movement has become one of the most successful worldwide environmental campaigns since the turn of the century.