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Discuss about the Degradable Polymers and Plastics.



The ethical challenge clearly manifested by the article is that increase in the plastic waste in the ocean is a threat to the human health and the marine life. The plastic waste is degenerating into smaller particles that are consumed by fish in the sea. The tragedy is that the sea foods humans consume also contain micro plastic substances that are harmful to ones health.  The critical ethical question which is also a central challenge to environmentalists and economist is whether companies should be defiant to this global concern and keep focused to the traditional role of business of maximizing profits or they should use products such as biodegradable material to prevent human suffering. It is disturbing that humans do not care about the environment because of the notorious tendency to use products contained in plastics and dispose off the plastics packs carelessly by the sea side and the surrounding environment. In broad strokes one my easily conclude that the human beings are generally ignorant, however, this may predominantly not be the case. Above all, the prevailing argument in this essay is that human being inherently have not embraced plausible ethical practices with  respect to protection of the environment and healthy.

According to the British Plastics Federation (2008) approximately 4 percent petroleum that is produced in a year manufactured into plastic which are used by companies in packaging products and making pipes. Mitchell (2015) argues that the demand for plastic products has been increasing rapidly. It has been argued that in 2009, the total production of plastics in the globe amounted to approximately 230 millions tones (Sesini, 2011). Hopewell et al. (2009) argues that 50 percent of the plastic that is produced in the world is only used once and disposed. Such a rate of disposal poses a serious threat to the environment and the human life. The plastic products that are produced by many companies are not biodegradable and therefore they remain in the environment and the seas for a very long time (Andrady, 1994). However, Swift and Wiles (2004) contend that plastic waste may not be durable especially in areas that experience high temperatures and excessive sunlight. It is instructive to not that the plastic break into small pieces that form plastic debris which accumulates in the environment and the sea thereby damaging the environment (Oehlmann et al. 2009). It appears that most consumers prefer plastic products because they are disposable.  Some exponents have proposed that the use of biodegradable plastics is likely to reduce the polymer pollution in the environment (North, and Halden, 2013).On the hand recycling of the plastic waste also significantly reduces the amount of plastic waste that is disposed (Hopewell et al., 2009). Eden ( 1996) argue that although the government may paly a significant role in reducing the exposure of plastic wealth to the environment, such a measure will only be effective and successful if public participation is considered. An overwhelming majority of scholars seem to agree that human beings should adopt pro- environmental ethical behaviors to reduce the effects of plastic waste on the human life (Azeem et al., 2013). 

Utilitarianism is a theory in ethics that is based on the pleasure and pain principle which was initiated by Jeremy Bentham (Glover, 1990). According to the utilitarian theory the consequences of an action is what determines if an action is ethical or not (Shaw, 1999). Exponents of this theory argue that the human being should enjoy the greatest happiness and minimal pain. An action is ethical if its consequences bring pleasure to the human being. It is apparent that companies that manufacture plastics products should align their actions to promote pleasure and happiness and human beings. According to the utilitarian theory the consequences of manufacturing plastics is that they pose a danger to the health of human beings and the environment which they live in. The surge in the plastic debris in the seas and the environment offend the principle of greatest pleasure and minimal pain.


However, business organization can minimize the effects of the plastic debris in the environment by embracing corporate social responsibility practices such as recycling the plastic and cleaning the oceans (Renouard, 2011). A business should calculate its net benefit of the actions that it takes (Norman, 2013). This implies that it should put on a scale of balancer the benefits of an action and the demerits. The primary goal of determining the net benefit is to ensure that the negative effects of any action do not outweigh the benefits.  It is evident that plastic waste causes harm to the marine life because they consume it. The environment also undergoes tremendous pollution and animals on land consume the plastics. Human beings also indirectly consume the plastics because sea and land animals are a major source of food. On the other hand, the benefit of plastic is that they are disposable packs and convenient when used to package products. In addition plastics products such as pipes have also been used in constructions.  According to the utilitarian theory it is prudent to note that use of plastics causes more harm than good. Although plastics benefit human beings they alternative biodegradable materials can be used in packaging and steel can be used in making pipes.

Kant established the deontological theory which states that an act that is ethical is determined by the duty that one has. Ideally it is based on a moral obligation that one inherently should always undertake (White, 2004).  On the hand Kant established the Categorically Imperative which is a supreme moral standard that is used to determine what is rational.  According to Kant, a person should have a good will which is the guiding principles that determines one action (Rawls, 1980).  Good will determines the moral action that one will take. An action should be based on a moral duty to act in a certain way. The Categorical Imperative in human beings should be a universal application. Therefore, a moral action according to this theory must be capable of being applied universally (Rawls, 1980). Ideally, it the action must be based on natural law. Businesses should continue with the manufacture of plastic materials provided that it is moral to do so. According to the moral law it is seems incongruous to cause human suffering or death when it can be avoided. It is the moral duty of business to prevent this suffering and therefore it is necessary that they should recycle the plastic waste in the environment. Human beings individually have the moral duty to protect the environment by taking actions that apply can have universal positive effect. It can be argued that this rule can be applied globally because an action taken by individual affects many people within their surrounding. Although Kant argues that moral laws are innate in human beings, it is imperative upon business and the international community to adopt universal moral system that will compel everyone to protect the environment through safe disposal plastic waste. It may be argued that companies refraining from making plastic products may also have a positive universal effect. Despite the fact that the role of a business is to make profit it is against moral laws that this should be done at the expense of human life and suffering.

The utilitarian theory and the Kant theory evinced two major diverging views. It is evident from the explanations in is essay that the utilitarian theory is based on the consequences of an individual’s action. According to the utilitarian theory the result of an action is important and the action that gives rise to the consequences may not be important.  An immoral action that gives rise to positive consequences is considered valid according to the utilitarianism because it cases greatest pleasure to the greatest number. On the other hand, the Kant theory is based on a moral duty and not the consequences.  This theory is different from the Utilitarianism because it focuses on an action that is taken by an individual rather than the consequences. The Kant theory seems to suggest that an action may be morally right but the consequences may be devastating to the human life. The main argument of this essay is that an action should be based on the consequences because the consequences have an immediate effect on human life. Business and individuals should therefore apply the utilitarian approach which is the best model that will bring the greatest pleasure to the greatest number.



Andrady, A.L., 1994. Assessment of environmental biodegradation of synthetic polymers. Journal of Macromolecular Science, Part C: Polymer Reviews, 34(1), pp.25-76.

Azeem, M., Hassan, M. and Kouser, R., 2013. What causes pro-environmental action: Case of business graduates, Pakistan. World Applied Sciences Journal, 24(12), pp.1642-1650.

British Plastics Federation, 2008. Oil Consumption. Available at: [Accessed April 27, 2017].

Eden, S., 1996. Public participation in environmental policy: considering scientific, counter-scientific and non-scientific contributions. Public understanding of science, 5(3), pp.183-204.

Glover, J., 1990. Utilitarianism and its Critics.

Hopewell, J., Dvorak, R. and Kosior, E., 2009. Plastics recycling: challenges and opportunities. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences, 364(1526), pp.2115-2126.

Mitchell, A., 2015. Thinking without the ‘circle’: marine plastic and global ethics. Political Geography, 47, pp.77-85.

Norman, W., 2013. Stakeholder theory. The International Encyclopedia of Ethics.

North, E.J. and Halden, R.U., 2013. Plastics and environmental health: the road ahead. Reviews on environmental health, 28(1), pp.1-8.

Oehlmann, J., Schulte-Oehlmann, U., Kloas, W., Jagnytsch, O., Lutz, I., Kusk, K.O., Wollenberger, L., Santos, E.M., Paull, G.C., Van Look, K.J. and Tyler, C.R., 2009. A critical analysis of the biological impacts of plasticizers on wildlife. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 364(1526), pp.2047-2062.

Rawls, J., 1980. Kantian constructivism in moral theory. The journal of philosophy, 77(9), pp.515-572.

Renouard, C., 2011. Corporate social responsibility, utilitarianism, and the capabilities approach. Journal of business ethics, 98(1), pp.85-97.

Sesini, M., 2011. The garbage patch in the oceans: the problem and possible solutions. Columbia University, New York.

Shaw, W., 1999. Contemporary ethics: Taking account of utilitarianism.

Swift, G., 2004. Degradable polymers and plastics in landfill sites. Encyclopedia of Polymer Science and Technology.

White, M.D., 2004. Can homo economicus follow Kant’s categorical imperative?. The Journal of Socio-Economics, 33(1), pp.89-106.


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