It is cheap and easy to make, it is strong and durable, it can be transformed into any conceivable shape, plastic stands as a somewhat wonderous material. It’s in fact to useful that in just 60 years, we have produced about 8.3 billion metric tonnes of it. 8.3 billion metric tonnes! That’s about 80 million blue whales, or 1 billion elephants, or 25,000 Empire State Buildings! About 79% of that is still accumulated in landfills and just around the environment (only 9% was recycled and 12% was incinerated).
More than eight million tonnes of plastic goes into the oceans every year, and it is estimated that there will be more plastic than fish by 2050 and that 99 per cent of all the seabirds on the planet will have consumed some. Plastic is found all over the planet, with 300 billion pieces in the Arctic and a remote island in the Pacific, the uninhabited Henderson Island, one of the Pitcairns, believed to have the highest concentration of plastic pollution in the world.
And who suffers the consequences of all of this plastic? Well, much of life on Earth, including humans.
The actual impact of flooding our planet in plastic is becoming more and more visible and tangible: whales with stomachs full of plastic, turtles choked on plastic bags and other plastic wrappings, seabirds found dead, and much more. However, much of the actual damage done to our planet is less visible.
Rather than degrade, plastic just breaks down into smaller, tiny pieces, called “microplastics.” These smaller particles are now, after 60some years of plastic production, found everywhere. You can find microplastics in ocean water, in sand, on beaches, and even formed into giant garbage patches in the ocean. Like bigger chunks of plastic, these microplastics leak toxins and toxic chemicals into water and animals and are actually consumed by many aquatic organisms (small and big alike). And do you know which species consume aquatic organisms? Yep. Humans.
Other than the direct consequences of unmeasured plastic waste, there are great environmental impacts associated with both the disposal of plastics and the creation of plastics: fossil fuel. The fossil fuel industry actually plays a big role in the promotion of the use of single-use (and reusable) plastics, as plastic is most often derived from crude oil or natural gas. As you may know, our dependence on fossil fuels for most of our everyday products and movements is an important reason and trigger of the current climate change and global warming we are experiencing.
Most of the work needs to be done by big corporations and the change has to come from them, however, how can you, as an individual, help to reduce plastic waste on our planet? Easy! Just reflect on your plastic use!
Take a look at the plastic you use and discard in a single day. Toothbrushes, disposable razors, utensils, straws, cups, wrappings, bags, etc. Think about ways you can actually reduce the use of these everyday and single-use plastic. Can you change out a disposable cup for a reusable, glass one? Do it. Use a steel razor instead of disposable razors. Plastic bag? How about a canvas one instead? These are small changes, but they can amount to a great change if everyone does their part!