Earth Day is coming up on April 22, and instead of encouraging solely individual change, large companies should be held accountable for their environmental footprint.
A 2017 report found that just 100 companies are responsible for 71 percent of industrial greenhouse gas emissions since 1988, the year human-induced climate change was officially recognized. This is equivalent to 635 billion tons of greenhouse gases. An individual’s environmental footprint pales in comparison to these companies.
This is not to say individual change doesn’t matter. The choices we make as consumers are powerful and can influence corporations to change, as well as reduce our own environmental impacts.
Individual action is important, but pollution rates are rising so quickly that it is no longer enough. Plastic, for example, is being produced at a rate of 350 million metric tons of plastic per year, so fast that recycling is no longer the solution. We have to look at the root of the problem, like corporations producing plastics in the first place.
Coca-Cola was named the world’s number one plastic polluter for the third year in a row in 2020, followed by PepsiCo and Nestlé. Though there have been promises made by some of these companies to be more sustainable, there is not enough action being taken.
Coke has pledged to use 50 percent recycled material in its packaging by 2030, however it continues to pump out three million tons of plastic packaging a year. It is not enough to reduce the amount of plastic being produced – it needs to be phased out completely.
This is a responsibility that falls on the shoulders of these large companies, but is being ignored or blamed on consumers. Coca-Cola proved this by stating that it would not stop packaging its products in single-use plastic bottles because consumers still want them.
One promising solution to the lack of corporate accountability is a federal bill called the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act. The bill, sponsored by Senator Jeff Merkley and Representative Alan Lowenthal, introduces many policy solutions to the plastic pollution crisis. One would require companies that produce plastic packaging to pay for their own waste collection.
Demanding producer responsibility like this would force them to pay for the consequences of their actions, or change to a more environmentally-conscious way of packaging their product.
The idea that climate change can be solved solely through recycling or picking up trash is unrealistic. However, believing individual change is powerless against pollution is also false. Climate change is a global problem that requires a global solution.
Individual change is important, but it’s just one piece of the puzzle. Large corporations have to be held accountable for their environmental impact, and actively work to prioritize sustainability.