Why do we use plastic?
Plastic is cheap, convenient, and easy to make. It’s in our clothes. Our cars. Our homes. It’s a useful substance. Pretty simple. But here’s the problem. We have produced more plastic in the last 10 years than we have during the entire last century. We are now producing nearly 300 million tons of plastic every year, half of which is for single use products. Moreover, almost every piece of plastic produced today stays on the planet in some form indefinitely. A small amount is incinerated, but the disposing of plastic is fairly expensive and has drastic effects on the environment.
Take a second to think of all the plastic you use on a day to day basis. Plastic water bottles. Plastic bags at the grocery store. Straws. Styrofoam plates. Plastic packaging on foods. Polyester clothes. You may not have ever noticed, but it can definitely stack up. The average American throws away approximately 185 pounds of plastic per year. That’s a lot for one person obviously, but where does it all go? A big issue with Americans in 2018 is the disconnection with the trash they produce and discard without a second thought. Out of sight, out of mind. This “disposable lifestyle” creates an illusion that when something is thrown away, it’s out of our lives forever. This is certainly not the case.
What are the effects on the planet?
If a product is biodegradable, it means that it can be easily decomposed in the earth’s soil. Decomposition is a process where tiny bugs called microorganisms eat and break down materials in the soil. Plastic is not a biodegradable material. It takes about 500-1000 years for any plastics to degrade, and when they do, they just break up into smaller tiny plastic pieces that stay in the soil for thousands of years. This affects the quality of our soil which in turn affects the quality of our food. And another fun fact; plastic chemicals can be absorbed by the human body. So if you’re over the age of 6, there is a 90% chance you will test positive of a foreign plastic chemical in your digestive tract. Studies are being recorded of plastics causing harmful effects on the human body as well as the effects on animals being caught in the middle of this unnatural product polluting our environment.
Countless animals die from consuming plastic every year. Plastic cannot be digested by animals, so when eaten, it can remain in the animal’s gut until it dies. Even worse, after an animal decomposes, the plastic will remain and move on through the environment continuing the process. Plastic kills millions of birds, urban animals, and marine life each year. More than 8 million tons of plastic are dumped into our oceans every year. That’s about 10% of the millions of tons of plastic we use a year. The plastic does not break down in the water and it is often mistaken for food by marine life. Plastic pollution also causes toxic chemicals to permeate throughout the ocean, unavoidable by all marine life. Plastic is the most common element found in the ocean and we have begun to find traces of these chemicals in the fish we eat. This problem affects the health of animals, the environment, and ourselves.
Does recycling help?
Recycling is a great way to preserve resources, reduce gas emissions, and keep many foreign items out of landfills. That being said, recycling should always be a last resort action in the disposing of plastics. With all the plastic produced in a year, only 5% is recycled back into society, and most of it can’t be used for food grade products again. Additionally, recycling is expensive and requires a great amount of time, water, energy, and manpower to make products safe for reuse. Recycling seems to be the most popular way for people to play a part in helping the environment. This is most likely because it has almost no effect on changing a person’s buying habits or lifestyle. Another out of sight out of mind type action.
What can we do?
Recycling is still better than nothing, but there is a more effective alternative. Every year, the United States alone throws away 35 billion plastic water bottles and 30 billion plastic bags. Majority of these items are not recycled and have a working life of less than one hour. Be more conscious of the products you buy. Avoid plastic food packaging. Bring your own bags to the grocery store. Wash dishes instead of buying disposables. Why do you even need a straw? It may not seem like you’re making much of a difference by changing these small instances of life but being conscious of the problem is one, if not the biggest step to saving the environment.
The thing is, no sane person actually wants to destroy the planet. The main issue is that most people are just unaware of the problem. They just don’t know. And if one day you’re at the supermarket and the cashier asks “Why do you bring your own bags?”; well, that’s one more person who knows. And the next step is getting people care. How do we do that? Well it all starts with you. Mahatma Gandhi once said “Be the change that you wish to see in the world”. Be the living example for others to follow. Be conscious. Be aware. Be the change. Save the world.