July 28, 2020
Plastic harms the environment in more ways than it's possible to count. We produce it because it's cheap and serves a multitude of functions. It keeps food fresh and provides a convenient and affordable way to package mass-produced items. Since the 1950s, we've produced approximately 8.3 billion metric tonnes of plastic. Unfortunately, almost 80% of this toxic material has found its way into landfill sites and the environment, where it's causing unprecedented damage to the earth and our bodies.
Read on to discover 10 ways plastic harms the environment, animals and humans so you understand why it's vital that we reduce the use of plastics.
Usually, it's a good thing to hear that something is cheap. However, when it comes to plastics, this is perhaps the worst thing about them. It's such an inexpensive way to produce and package items that pretty much everyone is reluctant to stop using them. Manufacturers making a switch to biodegradable packaging would cost more than a lot of businesses can afford.
That said, lots of modern companies are making the switch. Consumers are also happy to pay a little more to know that a product is sustainably made. Even though it can be up to ten times more expensive to use biodegradable packaging than plastic, there are various ways businesses can recuperate these costs.
Again, durability is usually on the list of positive traits. However, plastic takes hundreds of years to break down and creates toxic fumes if it's burned. As such, discarding of plastic is incredibly tricky. Considering the amount we make, it's building up in the world around us. Even when it does break down, the residue finds its way into the ocean, animal's bodies and our own system. Plastic is a useful material — but it certainly isn't supposed to be ingested.
More different types of plastic are building up in the environment around us, in a range of forms. Microfibers from synthetic clothes and microparticles from cosmetics don't only make their way into the ocean, but they're also potentially released into the air once dried. Although this doesn't seem to be a huge problem yet, experts suggest that plastics in the air could be a severe issue in the future. This is just one of the reasons why we must change our habits concerning plastic use.
Although we've made progress in our recycling behaviors as a society, there's still an incredibly long way to go. Recycling facilities for certain plastics don't exist in particular areas and it's easy to throw plastic away in the trash without thinking twice accidentally. Instead of obsessively focusing on recycling plastics, we should change the way we manufacture and package products. There are many types of plastic it's not even possible to recycle.
Shockingly, fracking is widely practiced, even though we know that it pollutes the air, water and soil with toxins. In the short term, it causes sinkholes and raises underground pressure, which seems to contribute to causing earthquakes. We have no idea of the long-term impact drilling deep into the earth will have on our planet, but it's easy to imagine how harmful it will be for future generations. To make matters even worse, fracking creates resin pellets — a type of plastic that harms the environment.
Another way plastic harms the environment is by using up unsustainable energy. Natural gas, crude oil and coal are some of the main ingredients in the plastic manufacturing process. There's growing public awareness that greedily using up these resources now could affect future generations. As such, it seems absurd that we're at all reluctant to find alternative ways of making plastic.
Even better, we should be turning to alternative, more sustainable materials to use in making and packaging items. If the public demand for change is high enough, change happens fast!
One of the features of plastic that makes it so dangerous is that it's practically invisible to most species. That means lots of aquatic animals and land animals can't see it and end up either getting trapped in it or eating it. The earth is a delicate ecosystem, and plastic disproportionately kills marine animals that are crucial to the life cycle. This means that we're causing severe disruption to the entire planet's ecosystem with our preference for conveniently packed and cheaply-manufactured items.
As mentioned in the last section, plastic harms and kills animals senselessly. As we've seen from the gradual demolition of the Amazon rainforest, disrupting these massive systems causes permanent damage to the air we breathe, the land we walk on, the food we eat and the water we drink.
It's not just getting caught up in plastic that causes harm to animals; they're eating it, too. Plastic bags look like jellyfish to sea creatures like dolphins, whales and turtles, who eat them, get sick and die. Some of these creatures are already critically endangered, and now we know why so many animals are dying, it's time to make the necessary changes.
If the thought of depleting wildlife and a damaged ecosystem don't tug at your heartstrings, consider the fact that you're eating animals that are eating our plastic waste. One plastic makes its way into our body; it can release toxic chemicals and potentially causes cancer.
When we didn't understand how plastic harms the environment, we had an excuse not to act on plastic waste or push companies to use biodegradable materials. Now we're armed with knowledge; we should use our consumer choices to make a statement that we won't tolerate plastic waste any longer.