It is time to get back to my TOP5 list of the simplest of actions we can focus on if we want to support our planet. Plastics – the form of fossil fuel – are an ideal material in so many ways; they are cheap, durable, flexible, and light. But, they are harmful to the environment throughout their life cycle. The harmfulness towards the environment begins with extraction and transport. After those, plastic adds its negative impact during refining and manufacturing. After these processes, people make things worse with sloppy or careless waste management and poor recycling methods. And what makes the situation with plastics even sadder, its life never ends after it has begun. Plastic does not go away- it is made to last. It just breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces.
We produce plus-minus 300 million tonnes of this problematic but yet so useful material annually and approx. 50% of it is for single-use purposes. Over 8 million tonnes of it ends up in the oceans every year – 80% of it is from land sources. We do put some of our plastic waste into recycling bins, believing and hoping for the best, but it does not mean they end up recycled. For example, according to EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), in 2017, the USA produced almost 35.4 million tons of plastic, and only 8.4 % of it got recycled.
Why are plastics so harmful?
One of the raw materials in plastic production is oil. The usage of fossil fuels always generates greenhouse gases. The oil industry by the drilling, pumping, leaks, and fires, harms and destroys the atmosphere, land, and sea areas, and the habitats of plants and animals.
Incineration. We need to get rid of the non-recyclable plastic waste somehow. One way has been incineration – burning. It doesn’t only release greenhouse gases, but also toxic gases, fumes, and ash, which contain mercury, BCP, furan, and dioxins. These toxins released by the burning process are harmful to humans, animals, and vegetation, causing cancer, lung and respiratory problems, and hormonal imbalances.
Plastic has ended up in our food chain. As the waste ends up in the environment and oceans, the animals eat it. The toxins of plastic do remain in the bodies and move forward in the food chain. Another good reason to become a vegetarian!
Plastic trash is ugly. While tourism increases the usage of plastics and generates more waste, this problem also has another aspect. Plastic harms tourism – people want to see clean beaches and clear water, not piles of fishing nets, plastic toys, and bags.
Animals suffer. While animals -mostly marine animals and birds – consume plastic by mistake, it blocks their gastrointestinal system. Creatures get tangled and trapped with plastic ropes and loops and slowly suffer to death. Obviously, the toxins plastic contains, has an impact not only on humans’ but also on the fertility of other animals.
Microplastics harm plankton growth and its photosynthesis. Phytoplankton has an essential role in photosynthesis because it is an efficient carbon pump. It absorbs CO2 from the ocean water and releases oxygen to the atmosphere. This process allows the water to absorb more CO2 from the air/atmosphere.
Why do we choose plastic?
But why might it feel hard and difficult to use fewer plastics or stop using it for good? Because it is everywhere. Its qualities are such great that it is possible to do almost anything of it. Also, the usage of plastic is sometimes habitual. So much depends – for example – on where do we shop, what is our routine in the aisles of the market, and how we learned to do things when we were still kids! Think about doing your hand wash dishes. How does the brush look like, and does it look the same your parents used to use? How is the detergent for hand dishwashing and machine packed? Why did you choose what to purchase and use? Is your way to use plastics a habit, choice, or necessity?
We have more and more nonplastic and less harmful products available, and while time goes by, it just gets easier to find and cheaper to purchase them. The more we ask for alternatives, the more we get! We all know the problems of plastics, but do we care enough to demand and make the change?
It is true, unfortunately – with the technology we have for now – sometimes non-recycled plastic material is essential. But whenever possible, we should try to use something else. Also, we will need some oil in the future as energy, but we don’t have endless reservoirs of it. Shouldn’t we try to save it for that day when absolutely nothing else is available or working? So let’s clean up our plastic waste from our lands and oceans and reuse it. Imagine the potential of utilizing the material we already have floating or being buried on our planet – the jobs, the inventions, the impact on the economy, health, equality, and wealth.
In the next post, I will introduce the ways my family has cut down our plastic usage and what we struggle with. There is certainly room for improvement and a lot of work to do but we are on the right path! Some ideas I have already introduced, you can find here and here.