Plastic is a no-good material. Yet its use facilitated the industrial progress of the whole world. First, it is versatile. We use it to make everything from parachutes to water bottles. Second, it is durable and convenient. Above all, it is everything but sustainable.
Proponents have predicted a cleaner and brighter world with plastic than before it was manufactured. But they couldn’t be more wrong. It is one of the worst things to be invented, with regards to our planet. It is a 400-million-ton-or-so industry. About 4 in 10 plastics are disposable. Most of these come from convenient packaging that we easily throw shortly after purchase.
Since the 1950s, we use and discard plastic with nary a second thought. We use it everywhere. Then spread it anywhere. We drown in our overconsumption of this artificial material.
First, this all started with a lofty goal. In the 1880s, John Wessley Hyatt invented the first plastic material “celluloid” to respond to a call for an alternative to elephant ivory. Celluloid came from cellulose, a plant-based polymer. In fact, Hyatt boasted that his invention would eliminate the need to need to plunder the Earth for scarce resources. If he could have traveled forward in time, he would have been disgusted.
Plastic became dangerous when it shifted from natural materials to oil-based. This cheapened the production process since petroleum back in the day was cheap. Chemists use oil waste gases to produce seven types of plastics.
Plastic pollution has grown exponentially to the point of endangering the whole planetary ecosystem. It is also a problem that everyone from consumers to governments should concern themselves. When you look at how plastic affects the world, you will see its “no-goodness”. Then find how you can ditch the plastic.
13 Reasons Why You Should Ditch The Plastic
1. Plastic lasts forever.
This artificial material is so durable. But this durability is a double-edged sword. It is such a long-lasting product that many scientists hypothesize that this will be the fossil of the modern world. Rather, it breaks down into tiny particles called microplastics. This process happens over a long range of time. Through this time, its chemical components pollute the environment and human lifestyle systems.
2. It turns fertile land into toxic wastelands.
Even after disposal, it leeches toxic substances into the soil and water. In fact, a third of all plastic waste ends up this way. These wastes intoxicate significant fertile land. Rather than being usable, agricultural land become toxic wastelands that yield no fruits. In China and Australia, for instance, thousands of acres of land have been classified as polluted and contaminated beyond repair. The contamination comes from disease-carrying microplastics.
The situation worsens when it rains. First, landfills bring down hazardous chemicals deeper into the ground, even into the underground water systems. Then they mix with the soil and water that they create harmful byproducts such as Bisphenol A and BPA. And they carry themselves back into human lifestyle through tap water. Double whammy for bottled water companies since they mostly source from municipal waters.
3. Wildlife death
Day after day, we see news about dead whales, birds, turtles and other animals. Sure, animal death is nothing new. It’s been happening since before humans came into the world. But the alarm comes from the nature of the deaths. Animals die more from plastic pollution than from direct human contact. They die from the toxicity of plastics thrown onto the ground and waterways.
Animals in all habitats, from fishes in oceans to cows in land, get harmed by plastic pollution. Over 700 species, including endangered ones, suffer from living with it. Some choke or asphyxiate over over abandoned nets, rings, or bottle caps. Others mistake plastics for food. And after that, get poisoned from such intake. For instance, floating plastic shopping bags are so similar to jellyfish that marine animals do not hesitate to eat them.
In news about dead animals washing up ashore, the stomach of these poor animals always filled up with so much plastic. Whales starved from tons of bags worth of plastic waste eaten at sea. Even mere contact with plastic leads to deteriorated biological functions of animals. This is some food for thought for us since humans are biologically animals, too.
4. It slowly kills us humans.
Plastic is made with chemicals such as phthalates and BPA to make up its durable structure. But they are carcinogenic and upsetting to human biological systems. These chemicals interfere with the endocrine system. They upset thyroid hormones. Both new and recycled plastic affect human users negatively. First, they lower testosterone levels in men. Second, women enter into premature girl puberty. This phenomenon destroys the reproductive system of young girls and women.
5. It harms curious children.
Most plastics are handy products. They are also very colorful. This makes them prime material for children’s toys. However, this is dangerous for children playing with them. Small plastics can be swallowed. These choke or asphyxiate curious children. The aforementioned toxic effects of plastic are exacerbated in children. Simply put, plastic harms children more because the little ones have weak and still developing body systems.
6. It taints and endangers our waters.
We are now at the cusp of an “Ocean Armageddon”. This term comes from environmental experts and policymakers. Foremost of which is the head of the United Nations Environment Programme. They refer to an alarming problem relating to plastic pollution. Marine pollution accounts for the largest amount of waste pollution on Earth. Scientists even estimate that by 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.
Tons of plastic enter the ocean in various ways every day. We threw them off boats and ships. We flush them down the drains and toilet bowls. Or the recycling company simply scatters them away due to improper waste management. Whatever the way we throw plastic away, these products contribute to marine pollution.
We live in an era where our planet is three-fourths full of soup. No, not the sumptuous soups at dinners. I’m talking here about plastic soups. These are oceans and bodies of waters full of plastic waste. They accumulate waste brought by sea currents to specific circles.
In fact, there is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It is located northeast of Hawaii, about 1000 miles from Hawaii and California. This plastic-filled area is trapped by one of the five major subtropical gyres (systems of ocean currents) that corrals and carries marine garbage into its vortex. Some estimate the Patch to be twice the size of the American continent. But it grows and shifts with changing ocean conditions.
Worse, cleaning up these plastic soups is an arduous complex process. It involves a lot of time and community efforts. And a hella lot of interstate or international co-working agreements for it to be efficient.
7. They are fire hazards.
Plastics generally melt at a low temperature. This trait makes them fragile. They also cannot protect things in a barrier such as those needed for furnaces. Then at high pressure, they deform. Despite their durability, they are vulnerable to flames. They combust and release toxic fumer when burned. Worse, the highly flammable plastics are polystyrene, acrylics, polyethylene and nylons. These plastics make up most packaging, home and office appliances. This makes almost everything we routinely use fire hazards.
8. Recycling doesn’t help things.
Our current waste management systems cannot keep up with the growth of plastic pollution. Even if the recycling industry employs thousands worldwide, plastic waste management is still not effective. Worse, it does not negate the carbon footprint of the plastic production. Rather, it adds to its wasteful manufacturing schemes.
The recycling industry is a loudly touted but darkly controversial part of environmental advocacy. Processing waste, particularly plastic, creates poisonous fumes and carbon emissions. When plastic wastes melt down, they release VOCs (volatile organic compounds). They pose health risks to flora, fauna and humans who live near recycling processes. Worse, people who buy food with recycled plastic packaging are doubly at risk from toxic chemicals.
Then the resulting new products are mostly downcycled material. Worse, even recyclable products are not valuable all the time. Recycled plastic rarely go back into the manufacturing scheme successfully. Economists concurred that plastic is not valuable enough to make recycling work. Only a few plastic types are recyclable. Others cannot due to being composed of a mixture of polymers and chemicals.
Single-use plastics also fail in recycling. They are mostly too small or too thin to be valuable for recycling companies. They are also prone to contamination due to waste mismanagement. Most plastic packaging come from food products. So when people throw away wrappers after eating what’s inside, food residue dilutes the value of that plastic material. It also contaminates the rest of the recyclable materials in the blue bin with harmful bacteria.
Second, plastic is often mistaken for green purchases. Some manufacturers produce “biodegradable plastics”. But this is too misleading to allow. Most biodegradable plastics do not biodegrade rapidly enough to avoid over accumulation. Worse, they confuse consumers and recycling workers alike due to their similar appearance to ordinary plastics.
So don’t be fooled into buying more stuff with the thought of recycling. Plastic is ideally recyclable but is not sustainable in reproduction. Ultimately, funding a solid waste management system is cheaper than subsidizing plastic collection and recycling.
9. It causes severe water disasters.
With climate change comes the uncontrollable and increasingly unpredictable weather systems. Hurricanes, storms and tornadoes burst into unsuspecting communities. Oceans rapidly inch over coastal towns and islands to soon engulf them into oblivion. And for urban areas, marine waste pollution kills millions from severe flooding. Floods usually begin with downpours from rain and storms. But they are exacerbated by clogged sewage systems.
People find it easy to just throw plastics over canals, drains, toilets, and waterways. These waste block cities drainage systems. The more waste there is in those areas, the higher the risk of high, long-lasting flooding. In fact, fatal Bangladeshi floods were caused by blockages in drainage systems from plastic shopping bags.
10. Most recyclable plastics are simply incinerated.
Most people do not recycle their plastic waste. Instead, they burn them together with fallen leaves in their backyards. Aside from individuals, businesses and recycling centers burn plastic. This mostly happens to contaminated or misrouted materials.
11. Or goes to landfill.
Each year, about 25 million dollars is spent in the state of California to dispose of plastic waste in landfills. This number potentially doubles or triples as China and South East Asia closes its shores from Western trash exports. Landfilling causes the brunt of terrestrial plastic pollution.
12. Plastic comes from fossil fuels.
Plastic production is not sustainable. Since the 2000s, it is the lifeline for the toxic fossil fuel industry. What makes the production process more toxic is the fact that they exist under heavily-exploited poor communities. Residents there suffer the most from pollutants in the factories and plants of plastics.
13. Plastic is just a byproduct of innovation.
Plastic should not be be all, end all of materials in the world economy. We have done well before plastic. We can create something better. Redesigning products would also show that companies and businesses can evolve to changing consumer needs.
There was paper. Then came wood. And hopefully, we will soon move on and ditch the plastic.