What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

How innovation and small steps can help us solve The Plastic Problem

On Wednesday night, PBS will air a one-hour special report, “The Plastic Problem,” that examines how our global dependence on plastic has created one of the biggest environmental threats to our planet. Amna Nawaz hosts the program, and she joins Judy Woodruff to discuss how we consume and discard plastic, where it is ending up and what corporations and consumers are doing to address the problem.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Tomorrow night, PBS will air an hour-long special report from our "NewsHour" team.

    "The Plastic Problem" examines how our global dependency on plastic has created one of the biggest environmental threats to our planet.

    Amna Nawaz hosts the hour. And she joins me here now.

    So, Amna, hello.

    This was an enormous undertaking. You all spent, what, a year working on this. Tell us a little bit about what's in it?

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That's right. I was part of this reporting team from the "NewsHour," along with John Yang, Paul Solman and Jeffrey Brown.

    And we were led by our producer Lorna Baldwin. Over the last year, we have dug into more about the reporting from the series last year, expanded that reporting across the globe. And we wanted to try to understand how this one material that we all rely on so much every day is now irreversibly hurting our planet in ways most of us don't even understand.

    Most people don't know, in the 70 years plastic has been around, we have made 9 billion tons of it, and that most of that is still around in some form. In fact, we should point out, some of the images people may see this documentary are a little disturbing.

    And we found, in some places, the plastic is ended up in places we don't expect it to.

    Take a look at this.

  • Man:

    Oh, my God.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    In 2015, a Marine biologist's went video went viral documenting the painful process as she removed a plastic straw stuck in a sea turtle's nose.

  • Woman:

    Oh, man.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    In the Philippines, a whale washed ashore in 2019 with nearly 90 pounds of plastic in its stomach. Seals are getting caught in fishing nets made out of plastic. They're called ghost nets, abandoned by the fishing industry. And an estimated 640,000 tons of them are floating in the ocean. That's 10 percent of all known ocean plastic.

    Judy, we should point out experts now believe that, by the year 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Oh, my gosh. That's hard to comprehend.

    So it does sound as if we're just now coming to an understanding of how serious the problem is. What did you learn about that?

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Yes, we really tried to approach this from every angle, not just looking at the history of how we got here and why the problem is so big, but also looking at how the people who make the plastic, the people who package everything up to sell it to us, how they see the problem.

    So we went to two of the biggest producers in the world. We went to Coca-Cola and to Unilever. And we asked them what they're doing to help fix this problem they helped to create. We also looked at the role recycling plays.

    A lot of people think that they roll the blue bins out to the curb at the end of the week, and that's it. We followed that trail of recyclable goods thousands of miles to see where that plastic is ending up.

    We talked to scientists who are looking at the fish that eat the plastic to ask, now are humans eating plastic because we eat the fish?

    And we also talked to the innovators, the people who are taking on new and creative approaches to try to address this problem. Judy, some of those approaches would actually surprise a lot of people.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, and, in fact, a lot of — you talk to a lot of people, and they say they want to know, what can be done about it and what can I, as an individual, do about it?

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That's right.

    I'm sure a lot of people have heard about campaigns to end plastic straw use or bans on plastic bags. We actually went to some cities and communities where those are in place to see, what has actually been the impact? Does it make a difference at all?

    Look, it took every part of society to get us where we are, to make the problem as big as it is today. So, despite our efforts to reuse and reduce, we're not yet making a dent. We use and make more plastic today than we ever have before.

    But experts say, look, if you want to make a difference today, start small and scale up. So we actually visited with one family in Canada who is trying to do just that. Take a look.

    So, all reusable cups now.

  • Woman:

    All reusable cups.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    A cloth coffee filter?

  • Woman:

    Yes.

    And we get our coffees in a jar. Reusable snack bags. We have got silicone.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    OK. What do you replace this with?

  • Woman:

    We are replacing it with beeswax wax. It covers food so that it doesn't dry out.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    How on earth do you get rid of plastic in your bathroom?

  • Woman:

    Yes. We're using a toothpaste in a jar.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And it's a glass jar.

  • Woman:

    And it's a glass jar.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Right? You can wash it out, reuse it.

  • Woman:

    Got hand soap. So now, instead of the plastic pumps, we have got a glass jar.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So you have made little changes everywhere you can.

  • Woman:

    Little changes, yes.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And, Judy, that's what people say will make a difference right now if you want to try something, lots of little changes.

    I actually tried this, testing out my own grocery shop. It's not as hard as it looks, but especially to keep in mind, if folks go out Thanksgiving shopping, you can start the make little changes today.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It does look challenging, though, to remember to do those little things.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That's right.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Make a difference.

    All right, the program "The Plastic Problem" airs tomorrow night on PBS. It's at 10:00 Eastern, 9:00 Central.

    Thank you, Amna.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Thanks, Judy.

Listen to this Segment

The Latest