How To Handle Plastic Pollution

Plastic has become a plague, and like many environmental problems, humans have created it. Wherever you are right now, look around and notice how much plastic you are surrounded by - it’s everywhere. With that we mean EVERYWHERE! It’s not just the plastic bag, your toothbrush, your phone case, your water bottle… the stuff you see, but there are also micro-plastics that are invisible to the naked eye. Our drinking water for instance is contaminated with micro-plastics.

An article by Science News for Students "Help For A World Drowning On Microplastics" says:

Research shows that people recycle only nine percent of plastic wastes. The rest — water bottles, pens, shopping bags — can end up in our waterair and soil. Exposed to light and waves, plastic breaks down into teeny-tiny bits. Known as microplastics, they have become a growing concern. That’s partly because when they end up in the environment, they also can end up in animalsour food and our drinking water.

In an investigation commissioned by the Orb Media group, microplastics were found in 83% of the tap water samples tested worldwide. The United States had the highest rate of contamination—94% of water samples, including some taken from Congress buildings in DC, contained microplastics. The next highest rates were observed in Lebanon and India. The lowest rates were found in Germany and France, although those “low” values were still rates of 72%. Microplastics were also found in tap water in Ecuador, Indonesia, and Uganda. 

Another article explains:

Since we began mass producing plastics in the 1940s, somewhere around 8.3 billion tons of plastic has been produced and, as of an estimate done in 2015, 6.3 billion tons—so, near 80%—of that has been tossed into landfills. An astonishing 20,000 plastic drink bottles are bought every single second with less than half of those collected for any type of recycling. 

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, it takes a plastic bottle 450 years to biodegrade. That’s about the same amount of time it would take for a synthetic diaper to biodegrade. That means just about every water bottle that was ever produced or used is still hanging around. And an estimated 8 million metric tons of plastic—an amount as heavy as 90 aircraft carriers—makes its way into the ocean every year.

Sea Turtle Eating Plastic

Those are staggering numbers!

What is plastic made of?

Plastics are organic materials that contain such elements as carbon (C), hydrogen (H), nitrogen (N) chlorine (Cl) and sulfur (S). They are made from raw materials such as oil, natural gas and coal.

How harmful is it for human beings?

Science News for Students "Help For A World Drowning On Microplastics" states that researchers don’t yet know the risks. But there are reasons to be cautious.

One is that plastic is made from oil and includes many different petroleum-based ingredients. Scientists don’t yet know how many of these might be toxic.

Ingredients in some plastics, such as polyvinyl chloride, can cause cancer. And phthalates (THAAL-aytes) — used to soften some types of plastics — can mimic the activity of hormones. These false hormones can cause unexpected changes in how cells grow and develop. Such changes may lead to disease.

Plastic also can soak up pollution like a sponge. The pesticide DDT and PCBs (a type of insulating fluid) are two types of toxic pollution found in plastics floating in the ocean.

How to get a handle on the plastic problem?

An article in Scientific American “Solving Microplastic Pollution Means Reducing, Recycling - And Fundamental Rethinking” says:

To get the microplastics problem under control, the world has to take three primary steps, those who study the issue say.

In the short term society needs to significantly curtail unnecessary single-use plastic items such as water bottles, plastic shopping bags, straws and utensils.

In the medium term governments need to strengthen garbage collection and recycling systems to prevent waste from leaking into the environment between the trash can and the landfill, and to improve recycling rates.

In the long run scientists need to devise ways to break plastic down into its most basic units, which can be rebuilt into new plastics or other materials. “There’s definitely no single solution,” says Koldewey, of the Zoological Society of London and a National Geographic Fellow.

Environmental Plastic Pollution
Environmental Plastic Pollution

An attractive, low-hanging target for tackling microplastic pollution is the drink bottles, utensils and bags that are called single-use plastics. Because they are used for convenience, not necessity, they are easier to do without, and the polymers used to make them are among the most commonly produced and found in the environment.

Single-use plastics are a glaring example of the problems with throwaway culture. Instead of investing in quality goods that will last, we often prioritize convenience over durability and consideration of long-term impacts. Our reliance on these plastics means we are accumulating waste at a staggering rate. We produce 300 million tons of plastic each year worldwide, half of which is for single-use items. That’s nearly equivalent to the weight of the entire human population.

Our mantra at Ad Vitam has been “Reduce & Recycle” We hope to inspire you to avoid single-use plastics. This is a global issue. We must collectively work together and do our parts individually. You and I are part of society, we must consider what we consume and buy. For example, ask yourself: “Do I really need that plastic bag to carry my shopping home?” Or do you really need a plastic straw to drink your juice or iced latté?

We also have some influence on the government level and can vote for people, who support environmental issues and don't keep signing bills that weaken environmental protection to favor fossil fuel industries.

Suggestions to avoid single-use plastic:

  • Buy glass water bottles instead of plastic ones, or refill water in a non-plastic portable container such as stainless steel

  • Get a reusable coffee mug to take to your coffee shop

  • Bring your own shopping bags

  • Use metal or sustainably sourced bamboo straws

  • Buy in bulk

  • Bring your own reusable produce bags (Whole Foods sells them in store or order online)

  • Avoid plastic wrap altogether by storing leftovers in reusable containers. Try reusable and compostable beeswax wrap for an easy and decorative option.

  • Incorporate as much of this great list on how to reduce plastic at home.

  • Let companies that make your favorite products know that you care about the packaging. Tweet, call, or send letters to these companies to ask them to switch to more durable, recyclable, compostable, renewable, and/or recycled-content packaging with less fossil fuel–derived plastic.

For more information and articles you can check out our Resources and Sustainability 101 pages.

Are you going to be part of the solution or part of the problem?

What are you doing to reduce plastic waste?

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