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What do guns and plastic ocean debris have in common?

Guns and Plastic Litter
This month's Plastic Perceptions blog finds an eerie similarity between these two seemingly diverse, independent topics—and with the thought process to generate possible solutions for both.

Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.

Plastics don’t pollute the ocean. People pollute the ocean.

Do you see the eerie similarity between these two perspectives?

Where do you stand on gun control and plastics bans? What do you think are the best strategies for reducing gun-related violence and ocean debris?

I bet that you, dear readers, will collectively come up with many answers and many solutions.

And that’s the point. These are not either/or issues. They’re not black and white. It’s not a question of personal freedom vs. the greater good, or personal responsibility vs. regulatory action. It’s a question of personal freedom AND the greater good, as well as personal responsibility AND regulatory action.

This inability to think in terms of “and” rather than “either/or” is also at the core of our current political problems and government inaction. One party wants less regulation. One party wants more. One wants more guns on the streets. One wants less. Ideology beats practicality. Inaction beats action.


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But I digress. Let’s get back to plastics and other ocean debris. Think of it as litter. When highway litter became an issue, we developed two approaches. One was spearheaded by Keep America Beautiful, in which people were held responsible for cleaning up after themselves.

The other approach was regulation in the form of bottle bills, which penalized people for littering. The purveyors of those bottles -- beverage companies and retailers -- were enlisted (ok, co-opted) into the collection effort, so that consumers, retailers, and producers were all involved in, and responsible for, reducing litter by keeping containers off the streets.

And, the approach works. For example, research done by the Department of Environmental Quality in Oregon (the first state to enact a bottle bill) indicates that after passage, beverage container litter was reduced by 83% while total litter was reduced by 47%. (See’s chart of government produced litter studies.)

So, how do we apply this type of collective and collaborative thinking to ocean debris? How do we create a system that makes everyone responsible, not simply the consumer, the plastics industry, retailers, or governments? How do we combine the desire for personal freedom with the need to think about the collective good?

What do YOU think?  Please comment below.

Read Lilienfeld’s first blog, Plastic Perceptions: Let’s make something perfectly clear

Robert (Bob) Lilienfeld has been involved with sustainable packaging for more than 20 years. He is editor of The ULS (Use Less Stuff) Report, a marketing and communications consultant to AMERIPEN and other organizations and is also a professional photographer. His website is

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