Waste Reduction as a Method to Meet Conservation Goals: A Comparative Analysis of Plastic Waste Management

dc.contributor.advisorParsons, E. Chris M.
dc.contributor.authorGriffith, Dana M.
dc.creatorGriffith, Dana M.
dc.description.abstractPlastics have become a staple of the urbanized human environment. Production and distribution of plastic resins became widespread during World War II. Nations at that time were not aware of the consequences of the use of plastics would impose on the environment. In the 1960s it was determined that plastics and had become a threat to wildlife and that their design for durability had also caused them to become a persistent pollution problem. By the 1980s, it was recognized that plastics had also become a threat to human health. In the past two decades it has been determined that plastics contribute to many more environmental threats and have also been recognized as a contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, attributed to global climate change. While efforts have continued in the United States to recover plastic materials for recycling, a large percentage of waste that is disposed of is composed of plastic material. Federal legislation in regards to plastics is soft law that is aimed at encouraging use of the three “Rs”: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. There are no specific regulations regarding their reduction, reuse, or recycling. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), however, has introduced through their Resource Conservation Challenge (RCC), a goal to increase the national recycling rate to 35 percent. Local efforts at the municipal, county, or state level have been attempted through various types of legislation to address increasing the recovery of plastics only, as well. This study examined the threats that plastics pose to the natural and human environment, the effectiveness of policy to address those issues, and the contribution of plastic production, use, and disposal in the United States to the emission of greenhouse gases. This study focused on polyethylene, the plastic that is most widely produced, used, and disposed of plastic material in the United States. Waste management strategies applied to polyethylene plastics that are currently in place and their overall contribution to carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions have been examined, as well. Source reduction as a policy instrument was compared to the nation reaching the EPA’s 35 percent recycling goal to determine which would be more effective at addressing the cumulative threats of plastics. In examining these aspects in regards to polyethylene plastics this study has determined that a 25 percent source reduction of virgin plastic material as a policy instrument will more effectively reduce the amount of plastics bound for release in the environment and that are available to create hazards to human health, and will also reduce greenhouse gas emissions attributed to the production, use, and disposal of plastics more effectively than meeting the national recycling goal of 35 percent.
dc.subjectGlobal climate change
dc.subjectEnvironmental impact
dc.subjectSource reduction
dc.titleWaste Reduction as a Method to Meet Conservation Goals: A Comparative Analysis of Plastic Waste Management
thesis.degree.disciplineEnvironmental Science and Policy
thesis.degree.grantorGeorge Mason University
thesis.degree.nameMaster of Science Environmental Science and Policy


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