Although plastic is immensely helpful in modern life, its broad use might make people less sustainable. Hazardous waste and greenhouse gasses are produced during the manufacture and disposal of plastic.
The vast majority of plastics cannot be recycled and are not biodegradable. Furthermore, plastic products commonly break down into microscopic fragments known as microplastics that can harm wildlife and damage ecosystems.
Plastic Waste: What Is It and Why Is It a Problem?
Plastic pollution doesn't just affect the environment - it can also directly impact people's livelihoods and social well-being. When habitats are altered, and natural processes are disrupted, it reduces ecosystems' ability to adapt to climate change. This, in turn, can have a knock-on effect on food production capabilities and social well-being. So, tackling plastic pollution isn't just about saving the planet - it's also about safeguarding people's livelihoods.
A few challenges with plastic include:
- Microplastics have been found in people's food, with the average person consuming up to 5 grams of plastic a week. Microplastics have also been found in the placenta of babies. This is a severe health concern, as ingesting microplastics can cause various health problems.
- Many food packaging materials contain harmful chemicals like phthalates and BPA. These chemicals can leach into food and pose a health risk. When buying food, try to avoid products that come in plastic packaging. Opt for glass or metal containers instead.
- Not all plastic can be recycled, which is a problem because it can end up in landfills, where it takes centuries to decompose. Some coffee cups, for example, have a waterproof plastic lining, making them difficult to recycle.
- Ninety-nine percent of plastics come from fossil fuels, and the manufacture of plastic is directly linked to the fossil industry. From now until 2030, petrochemicals are anticipated to be the main factor driving the increase in the world's oil demand. Greenhouse gases (GHGs) are emitted throughout the plastic life cycle, threatening the global community's ability to keep global temperature rise below 1.5°C. In order to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, it's important to look for alternatives to plastic and find ways to recycle and reuse the plastic that already exists.
- 270+ marine species are impacted by marine debris in various ways, including through entanglement, ingestion, and chemical contamination.
- Seabirds are at risk of ingesting plastic due to the high amount of plastic waste produced yearly. In the next 30 years, it is estimated that 99% of seabirds will have ingested plastic at some point in their lifetime. This is a serious problem because plastic can cause internal blockages and damage the bird's digestive system.
Reducing plastic waste doesn't have to be difficult - plenty of alternatives to traditional plastic products can help cut down on waste produced yearly. Some great options include cloth bags, recycled paper, cornstarch bags, steel products, and more. Most of these alternatives also offer plastic-free packaging, which means one can reduce plastic waste even further!
What Are Plastics Made up of?
The primary components of plastic are created by refining oil and natural gas. Different molecules are used to create different types of plastic. This gives each type of plastic a unique chemical structure and set of properties. Manufacturers also use additives to offer certain items the traits they want. For example, some plastics are designed to be shatter-resistant. Others are made to be flexible. And still, others may be created to withstand very high or low temperatures.
These chemicals, which include plasticizers, colorants, stabilizers, flame-retardants, fillers, reinforcing fibers, and biocides, can sometimes contain harmful materials such as BPA and compounds of arsenic, lead, and cadmium.
Plastic Pollution and Its CausesPlastic pollution is a massive problem because it harms the environment, animals, and people living in it. When animals consume plastic, toxins move up the food chain and can even be found in the fish that people eat. This is a huge problem because it can cause serious health problems for those who consume contaminated seafood.
The primary causes of Plastic pollution include:
- Increasing population and urbanization
- Excess plastic usage
- Affordability of plastic
- Daily usage of plastic
- Illegal dumping of plastic
- Excessive usage of single-use plastic
- Use of plastic by the shipping industry
- The slow decomposition rate of plastic
Much of the plastic that pollutes the oceans is microplastics, tiny pieces that are nearly impossible to filter out. These plastics can come from the breakdown of larger objects. However, they are also commonly added to consumer products such as facial cleansers, cleaning products, and toothpaste. This causes plastic pollution.
Ways to Reduce Plastic Waste: Some Sustainable Products
There are many ways that people can reduce their reliance on plastic and help preserve the environment. One way is to take bags from home to the stores instead of asking for plastic bags. Another way is to refuse straws when we're out at restaurants or bars. And finally, people can use metal or glass containers instead of plastic when storing food or beverages.
Plastic can also be recycled. Recycling plastic takes less energy than creating new plastic and helps keep plastic out of landfills and oceans. By reducing reliance on plastic, the world can take a step towards creating a more sustainable future.
Everyone can practice sustainable living in their daily lives. The best way to reduce plastic waste and pollution is to simply reduce it. One should focus on eliminating single-use, non-recyclable, and non-recyclable plastics (think wooden toothbrushes, polystyrene food trays such as clamshells, and biodegradable garbage bags). A few of the ways are discussed below:
- Replace plastic toothbrushes with bamboo toothbrushes.
- Carry cloth bags when going out shopping.
- Use biodegradable garbage bags instead of using non-biodegradable plastic garbage bags.
- Carry water bottles and avoid purchasing packaged drinking water.
- Use glass or steel containers over plastic containers to store things.
- Use steel lunch boxes instead of plastic ones, which are directly or indirectly harmful to health.
- Use eco-friendly, chemical-free food wraps instead of aluminum foil, which isn’t good for health and is non-biodegradable.
There are many other ways to reduce plastic waste; these are just a few examples. If every person pledged to do their part in living sustainably, the world could make a significant dent in the amount of plastic polluting the environment.
Plastic waste is a huge concern for the health and well-being of the planet, but with a few minor changes, people can reduce plastic waste and keep the planet healthy and clean.
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