All About Plastic Waste
With 300 million tons of plastic being produced every year, humanity has a big plastic problem. What's worse is that only 1% to 3% of all plastic is recycled.
Marine life is getting affected the worse from plastic waste because of how it begins breaking down into microplastic particles that get eaten by ocean life. From there, plastic toxins make their way into the food supply, causing numerous health effects in humans.
Perhaps the most alarming trend is that we are on track for having more plastic in the ocean than fish! There is something seriously wrong with us if we continue to pretend like plastic is not incredibly dangerous.
Although some cities and nations have begun passing laws banning single-use plastics, it is still not enough. We need to be part of the solution and not only wish on a hope and a dream that governmental bureaucracies will legislate plastic out of existence fast enough for it to make a meaningful difference right now. You can do your part by avoiding plastic whenever possible and convince others to do the same.
We need to stop feeding the problem for the sake of convenience, because far too much is at stake. When Minke whales are being found dead with 800 KG of plastic in their stomachs, there is something devastating happening. The easiest aspect of plastic waste to tackle is disposable and single-use plastic like the plastic bags animals are misidentifying as food.
Disposable and Single-Use Plastic Products
Every year, over 150 million tons of "disposable" single-use plastic are produced. This accounts for over half of all of the plastic produced annually.
One of the most distressing aspects of plastic is that it can take thousands of years for it to break down. If humans are still around thousands of years from now, they will still be finding plastic bottles and forks, wondering how we could have been so blind in our ability to see the error of our ways.
Besides taking millennia to decompose, plastic continually leeches toxic contaminants into the water and environment. These toxins get into the food chain and create all sorts of health issues, including death to those most vulnerable.
Marine life is especially sensitive to plastic, considering the exposure to sunlight and water breaks down the toxic chemicals plastic is made of and accelerates the leeching of them into the food chain.
What You Can Do About the Plastic Problem
The plastic problem is a tremendous one facing all living systems on Earth. While it may seem insurmountable given how plastic has reached practically every part of the world, from the mountaintops of the Himalayas to the frozen lands of the Antarctic, there are steps we can take.
Stop Using Plastic
This is the most obvious answer. However, plastic has become some prevalent and ingrained within our lives that this is practically impossible (although you are free to try!). What you can easily do is reduce and minimize your use of plastic. There is a reason why 'reduce' is at the front of the "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" waste hierarchy. It creates the biggest impact on reducing plastic pollution out of all three major actions you can take. If you do not buy a plastic product in the first place, you will not be creating more plastic waste which could be reused or recycled.
Use Plastic Alternatives
A true plastic alternative would have similar properties to plastic and be able to serve the purposes plastic serves, without damaging the environment. Here are some modern innovations that are great alternatives to petroleum-based plastics:
Bioplastics are plant-based plastics made out of sources such as corn. What is even better is that the discarded parts of plants like corn are used to create bioplastics. You can replace clear bottles, food containers, and other single-use plastic products. Bioplastics are the closest to the look and feel of conventional plastic, without the harmful side effects.
Mycellium is what the network of white mushroom roots is made of. Along with other agricultural waste like straw, mycellium is mixed together to literally grow products that are currently being made out of plastic such as food containers.
Bagasse is a byproduct of processing sugarcane. It can be molded into packaging for food similarly to how polystyrene is currently. Unlike the toxic polystyrene, bagasse is completely biodegradable and safe for the environment.
Silberboard is metallized paper that can be used as a replacement for composite metallized papers and boards. It is a compostable material and can get used for food containers, boxes, household containers, and more.
Wood Pulp Cellophane is a plastic made from wood pulp. Since it is derived from wood, it is completely biodegradable. It comes in both opaque and semi-clear versions, with the possibility of being used for a variety of products in lieu of toxic plastic.
Milk Plastic is not a new invention. In fact, it has been around for over 100 years. When you combine the casein protein found in milk with clay and a reactive molecule, you get a strong and biodegradable plastic. The pharmaceutical and agrochemical industries are both exploring ways to replace petroleum-based plastics with milk plastic.
Convince Others to Stop Using Plastic
Besides changing your relationship with plastic and getting it out of your life as much as possible, it is time to bring the message to others. Start with your friends and family, educating them on the serious problems with plastic and offering plastic alternatives.
You can also get on social media and write articles, make videos, and use other means of spreading awareness about plastic waste. Most people are reasonable, so if you present a well-stated case that makes sense, they will get on board and start shifting their habits.
Be the Change
Plastic, while seemingly useful in many ways, comes with a dark side. Plastic waste is incredibly resilient to decomposing, meaning it will continue polluting the environment for thousands of years. Thanks to advances in technology, there are now safe alternatives to plastic that can completely replace petroleum-based plastics. By doing your part in reducing the amount of plastic waste in the world and switching to safer alternatives, you help ensure the future is better for all life on Earth.