There are many forms of plastics and these include plastic knives, forks, spoons, cups, drinking straws, cotton buds, bags, food wrapping, take away food containers and water bottles, with the list being endless.
The problem is that most plastics are not biodegradable, with a solid structure, while being quite costly to destroy without damaging the environment. If you burn plastic, it releases harmful CO2 gases and chemicals into the atmosphere, and so much of the waste ends up in landfill sites. A lot of plastics are blown by the wind and end up in the drainage system, some are simply thrown away, while much of it ends up in the sea.
Plastic pollution is the proliferation of used and discarded plastic items, such as water bottles, plastic bags, sweet wrappers, food wrapping and in fact anything made from plastic which is not disposed of properly in the appropriate containers or separated for recycling.
It is worth bearing mind that even though waste may have been disposed of properly, (i.e. bins, landfills, etc.) elements and creatures of nature, such as wind, birds and scavenging animals, may remove the items, causing damage to our eco system. Also plastic waste could still be deposited in drains, ditches and waterways, where they can end up in the sea or simply littered around the place.
Plastic pollution is also the contamination of water by the release of chemicals within the compound, as well as fragments caused by the gradual breakdown of plastics and also the waste plastic in the oceans, which in turn either harms or kills sea life.
If plastic waste is to be controlled, some form of measures need to be put in place by the global governments around the world. They need to work together – in fact, we all need to work together, as this is a global crisis and endangers the future of our planet. We need to think about the sustainability of future generations in this plummeting environmental crisis.
It has to be effective and aimed at the people who are causing the problem, especially corporations and the general populations. People need to stand up and work together to clean up the damage that has been done over the decades. If we say no to plastic, the corporations and governments will follow.
By buying into plastic, we are creating a supply and demand scenario. Cut off the demand and the supply will diminish. Learn to say no and use alternative means for your daily lifestyles. We need to protest against the injustice and greed of financial gain over the environment. We only have one planet and once the damage is done, it will get harder to reverse, and at some point, be totally irreversible for generations to come.
It is not enough to just charge people for plastic bags or plastic coffee cups. The corporations encouraging the use of single use plastics, the fast food outlets and supermarkets wrapping everything in layers of plastic, need to be accountable and made to pay the penalty, not the general public.
We need environmental advertising campaigns and to educate society on the harmful effects plastics are creating. Many people in the world, simply do not know or realise what they’re causing by their waste products.
We should all refuse to buy products wrapped in plastic and boycott the system, unless it is absolutely necessary for hygiene etc. Many foods have natures protective outer layers or shells which we do not eat (i.e. bananas, avocados, onions, pineapple, etc.). If we do eat the outer layer of the fruit or vegetable, it is easy enough to wash them – which many people do anyway.
The beginning of the problem with plastic pollution is that it slowly releases toxic chemicals into the water. Sunlight and ageing cause the plastic to become brittle, breaking it into smaller pieces, making it much harder to clean up.
The next phase, waterborne plastic, not only looks unsightly, but is eaten by sea creatures and birds mistaking it for food. Some plastic bags, string and drink can holders entangle sea creatures and cause deformation, and in the worst cases, fatal drowning. This horrific plastic waste is slowly poisoning sea life, reducing populations and also poisoning us when we consume fish in our diets, damaging the entire eco system.
It was estimated in 2015, that 8 million tons of plastic ends up in the oceans on a yearly basis.
A lot of consumer products (i.e. computers, phones, TVs etc.) made from plastic become outdated very quickly and are thrown away. These end up in landfill sites and it is in those premises that the plastics decay, releasing toxic chemicals into the earth. These chemicals leech through the soil, ending up in the underground water system and eventually taking to the sea.
So although plastic has provided a lot of convenience for our modern lifestyle, it is also causing great harm to our planet’s ecosystem, as well as being detrimental to our own health, shortening our life expectancy.
It would be almost impossible to go completely plastic free. As an experiment, keep all your plastic waste for a week and just see how much waste a normal family generates – it is quite frightening and most of it will end up in landfills.
A lot of the waste we generate can be prevented, plastic items (i.e. tubs, bottles, etc.) can be re-used for other purposes, such as, storage for small items, pots for plants, propagating seeds, as well as a whole host of other applications.
However, it is single use plastics which are the most harmful to the environment. To cut this down will take conscious changes to our lifestyles, perhaps a little inconvenient, but the stakes are very high, paying off greatly in the long run.
Refuse to accept items which are wrapped in plastic at the supermarket and alternatively request paper bags instead. Ask the supermarket manger what they are doing about reducing the use of plastics. If enough of us stop buying plastic products, hurting the pocket of your local supermarkets, they will have no choice, but to adapt and change their habits. A lot of traditional greengrocers and farm shops have ceased plastic consumption, switching to paper bags instead, just like people did in the 60s.
You can start by carrying a coffee cup, as opposed to disposable plastic cups for coffee from Starbucks etc.
It’s a good idea to your Chinese takeaways to provide the foil containers rather than plastics, avoiding contamination of your food. Try to learn which plastics can be recycled and separate them out for recycling at the proper centres. Even though you separate your waste, a lot still ends up in the same landfill.
Relatively, little of our plastic waste is recycled, due to there being various types of plastic with different chemical compositions. Mixing different types of plastics during the recycling process causes a lot of contamination in the new product.
Plastic waste is also contaminated by materials such as paper and ink. Separating plastics from other recyclables, and different types of plastic from each other, is a very labour intensive process, while being costly and so far, there has been no easy solution.
Plastics that can be recycled are first sorted, shredded to get rid of impurities like paper, the shreds are then melted and formed into pellets, which can later be made into other products.
In December 2018, the UK’s Royal Statistical Society highlighted that only about 9% of all plastic ever made was likely to have been recycled.
Some 18 billion pounds of plastic waste flows into the oceans every year from coastal regions. That’s the equivalent of five grocery bags of plastic trash sitting on every foot of coastline.
40% of plastic produced is packaging, used just once in the lifetime of the product, only to be discarded after a one time use.
Building and construction – 72
Textiles – 65
Consumer products – 45
Industrial machinery – 3
Electrical – 19
Transportation – 30
Other – 52
Average plastic bag usage per resident in the USA is 365 bags per year.
Shoppers in the USA – 1 plastic bags per day.
Shoppers in Denmark – 4 plastic bags a year.
Nearly half of all plastic ever manufactured has been made since the year 2000.
Overall global plastic production in millions of tonnes:
In 1950 – 2.3M tonnes
In 2000 – 200M tonnes
In 2015 – 448M tonnes
50% of the world’s plastics are made in Asia.
The lion’s share of that, 29% is made in China, home to 18% of the world’s population.
Latin America – 4%
Middle East/Africa – 7%
Europe – 19%
NAFTA countries – 18%
Other – 2%
Less than a 1/5 of all plastic is recycled globally.
Plastic recycling rates are highest in Europe at 30 percent.
China’s rate is 25%
The USA recycles just 9% of all its plastic trash.
Nearly a million plastic beverage bottles are sold every minute around the world.
In 2015, Americans purchased about 346 bottles per person, with 111 billion plastic beverage bottles in total.