Explained: Plastic Pollution.
Plastic pollution will not be news to you as a reader of this blog. It has been a growing problem ever since man-made plastics were created in the early 1900’s. Since then we have been using and abusing this ever-useful product, without much thought to where it goes when we are finished with it, and now we are facing a global crisis that is suffocating our oceans, polluting our bodies and spoiling our beautiful planet.
The ever-growing issue was bought to the forefront of the public consciousness off the back of BBC’s Blue Planet II which aired in 2017. It made us face up to the effect our disposable lifestyles are having on the planet that we call home. It has led to some significant, impressive change but we have not won the war against plastic. So much more needs to be done to save our oceans and stop the detrimental effects of plastic pollution.
So, let’s go back to why plastics are an issue and then we can explore the issue in its entirety.
Plastics are made from fossil fuels. You don’t need me to tell you that this means bad news. Fossil fuels are a natural resource of Earth that are made up of organic matter that has become Carbon-rich over Millenia. The exploitation of fossil fuels is a huge contributing factor to the current climate crisis, so their use in the first place, in the creation of plastics, is already a big issue. Since the end of WW2, the production of plastic has been a defining material of the modern world – everything is made of plastic! However, alongside this high usage of the material, we have also grown a throw-away culture that is made for convenience and not sustainability.
Environmental issues are the topic of our generation, and rightly so. More and more the consequences of our modern day lives are coming to the forefront of our consciousness, but it can be easy to become overwhelmed with so many terms and ideas being thrown around. The Curious Environmentalist was created to make environmental and conservation topics more accessible. My name is Rebecca, the founder of The Curious Environmentalist, and as I am learning about the world around me and the problems it faces, I am sharing that knowledge in the hope that, together, we can make significant, long-term change.
This is an immediate issue on a global scale.
Reportedly up to 40 percent of all plastic produced annually is for single-use plastic products. Single-use products include wrapping for food products and the infamous supermarket carrier bag. Their lifespan of use is between minutes to hours at most, yet the materials that they are made out of will remain in the environment for hundreds of years (if not more).
It is estimated that 8 million tonnes of plastic per year end up in our oceans from coastal nations alone. The plastic enters our marine environments and then starts to breakdown; however, it is now coming to light that plastics most likely don’t disappear, they simply get smaller and smaller. These small particles are known as microplastics, which is another buzzword that has been in headlines on numerous occasions. Microplastics have now spread across the whole planet, with scientists finding them from Mount Everest, to the bottom of the Mariana Trench, and even embedded in Arctic ice.
Not only is plastic pollution a blight on the beauty of our planet, it is also detrimental to our wildlife. Millions of animals are needlessly killed every year by plastics. We all remember the tragic footage of birds who have eaten indigestible plastic, mistaking it for prey, which fills their bodies leaving them to starve to death. We have all seen the image of sea creatures perishing due to entanglement in abandoned fishing gear or the rings of a six-pack of beers. However, plastics are also doing harm that we cannot see without the help of technology. Microplastics and plastic fibres are making their way into the food chain which is wreaking havoc with the food supply for larger marine creatures, and negatively impacting reproduction rates and causing internal deformities within species populations in polluted areas around the entire globe.
It is thought that approximately 1 in 3 fish caught contains microplastics, so it is plausible that the plastics that we have created and polluted the planet with are now finding their way back into our bodies.
What unknown damage will that do?
If you won’t make change for the sake of the planet, maybe you will do it for the sake of human health?
There are many initiatives and organisations that are helping to clean up the oceans, however, it would be much easier to stem the flow before it entered our waterways. Only a small percentage of marine litter floats near the surface, so although every little helps – it’s a little like shovelling snow in a blizzard.
We need to sort the issue at the heart of plastic pollution.
We need to break up with single-use products and encourage change in the way we package and recycle our consumer goods.
There is no denying that plastic is hugely useful to our modern-day societies. It has helped us create and innovate faster than ever before in human history. However, now we know the flaws that come along with the use of plastics, we can no longer turn a blind eye. We must look for alternatives that can do the same job but without harming our home. News is often coming out of scientists and inventors coming up with new ideas of new ways to create an eco-friendly, biodegradable plastic alternative – so there is hope. However, change is often expensive and resisted if not demanded. It’s time to use that consumer power for good and stop plastic replacing life in the ocean before it’s too late.
So, what can we do?
Buy plastic alternatives when buying consumer goods.
Recycle everything we can.
Support clean-up organisations.
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