Did you eat chips today? Order takeaway? Purchased your favourite shampoo? They all have one thing in common with each other: plastic. Almost everything we use, from the cleaner in the house to the food we eat, is plastic. If current trends continue, our oceans will likely contain more plastic than fish by 2050. People are not talking about plastic’s effects on human health. Each step of its production results in long-term, irreversible damage.
What Is the Future of Plastics?
Plastic is everywhere. Cheap and durable. It is the norm, and everyone uses it. The consequences are far worse than anyone imagined. According to a recent study, approximately 53 million tons of plastic will be in our oceans, rivers, and lakes by 2030. That’s even with the current global efforts to reduce plastic waste!
What Is Global Plastic Consumption?
Currently, the world has about 8.3 billion tons of plastic – roughly 6.3 billion tons of trash. That’s as much plastic as 55 million jumbo jets. In 1950, we created 2 million tons a year, which grew 200 fold by 2021.
How much plastic waste is recycled is one of the most critical statistics. Most plastic produced today is never recycled, even though plastic is technically a sustainable material – because it’s cheaper to create new products from scratch, recycling plastic is economically inefficient.
Plastic waste will continue to pose a problem because the overwhelming majority of plastic in our landfills or incinerated (producing harmful gasses) is stuck in landfills. The only solution is to discourage residents from buying disposable plastics and encourage them to recycle as much plastic as possible.
The EPA has yet to release more recent data on plastic recycling. Because of the pandemic, 2020 and 2021 saw record-breaking shipments, with plastic playing an important role.
Even though the global economy finds it challenging to stop producing new plastic products despite widespread public sentiment that plastic is harmful to the environment, the efforts to eliminate plastics have not directly benefited the bottom line of many consumer companies, unlike other environmentally friendly practices.
According to S&P Global Ratings, plastic packaging is unlikely to be replaced soon by many of its current uses because of its advantages over alternative options like paper or glass. Eventually, plastic production and recycled plastic content will change.
Why Does Plastic Take Years To Decompose?
Slow degradation can be attributed to a simple reason. Since these materials do not occur in nature, there are no naturally occurring organisms that can break them down effectively.
In nature, bacteria do not have access to or are “familiar” with the chemical bonds in plastic materials. We know these substances as “xenobiotics.”
Today, several technologies – heat, pressure, chemical additions, and biological procedures (some in research) – can speed up the degradation process while preventing the release of hazardous materials.
Another option is to create biodegradable plastic bags out of natural organic ingredients (such as corn). Various Israeli organizations have used them in the last year. There is also a plastic substance known as polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA), produced spontaneously by microbes and is more biodegradable.
Can Plastics Not Be Recycled?
Plastics of lower resin codes are more likely to be easily recyclable than those of higher resin codes. While many plastics are recyclable, even if the process is not widespread, many plastics aren’t because they aren’t easily recyclable.
What Happens to Plastic That Isn’t Recycled?
Commonly, landfills. Nevertheless, plastic waste can often be repurposed or reused, with the result that it is diverted from landfills for a while. For example, plastic bags can be reused more than once before being disposed of.
However, there is still much to be done. Manufacturers should therefore start creating products that are easy to dispose of. Packages and the products themselves should start being recyclable.
When it comes to recycling, the government will have to put the bottom line aside. Sure, some varieties aren’t as environmentally friendly as others, but throwing them in a landfill or incinerating them is no better.
Plastic Pollution Is a Human Health Issue
Plastics are everywhere. It’s used to make many of our furniture, clothing, electronics, and food packaging. In recent decades, natural materials used in production, such as paper, glass, and cotton, have been supplanted by plastic. We all know that the widespread usage of plastics has resulted in severe plastic pollution of our environment. Plastics are more than just an environmental concern. As toxicologist Professor. Dr Dick Vethaak stated we are dealing with a human health concern.
Every day, we eat, drink, and breathe microplastics. Once within our bodies, these microscopic plastic particles may be harmful to our health. Chemical additives are used in the production of plastic products.
These substances have been linked to significant health issues such as hormone-related malignancies, infertility, and neurodevelopment disorders such as ADHD and autism.
Plastics and microplastics attract microorganisms such as dangerous bacteria when they wind up in the environment (pathogens). Microplastics containing these microorganisms may raise the risk of infection if they penetrate our bodies.
Plastic Contributes to Climate Change
Most plastics derive from fossil fuels (mainly oil and gas), such as ethylene and propylene. Billions of tonnes of greenhouse gases are produced during the extraction and transportation of those fuels, then during the manufacture of plastic. Refining uses another 4% of the world’s annual petroleum production, and 4% of it is diverted to making plastic.
What is equally troubling is what we do with all the plastic entering the system. In Australia, they generate almost 3 million tonnes of plastic a year. 95% of that is discarded after only one use. The remaining amount is disposed of in landfills or incinerators since less than 12% is recycled.
We used to depend on countries such as Myanmar, China, and Cambodia to handle our waste plastic. It was easier to bag it up and ship it offshore for someone else to deal with.
Researchers expect that the manufacture and combustion of plastic will emit over 850 million tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere alone this year. These emissions might increase to 2.8 billion tonnes by 2050. However, the inadequately regulated incineration in those underdeveloped countries created significant hazards to human health and the environment.
At least 8 million tonnes of discarded plastic enter our seas each year, and plastic pollution at sea is on track to treble by 2030. We have even discovered plastic in the deepest part of the Earth.
Plastic creates a lethal legacy in our seas, which serve as the most significant natural carbon sink for global gases. It immediately chokes and suffocates various marine animals and environments and can take hundreds of years to degrade.
Sunshine and heat force the plastic to emit potent greenhouse gases. This phenomenon results in a problematic feedback loop. As our temperature changes, the Earth becomes hotter, and the plastic degrades into more methane and ethylene, increasing the rate of climate change and perpetuating the cycle.
Polyethylene terephthalate (PET), commonly used in plastic bottles, is the most common plastic to recycle. S&P Global Platts estimates that 60 per cent of PET bottles will be recycled by 2030, with half of the bottles making fresh bottles.
Companies in Europe are setting the pace in PET recycling, and they’ve proposed to increase the share of clear plastic bottles and single-polymer plastics to make recycling easier.
A central notion dominates. For measures and legislation to be effective, it is critical to raise awareness about the effects of plastics and microplastics in the marine environment. We must take precautions. Otherwise, obtaining political agreement, public and private sector commitment, and public acceptability to pursue direct litter reduction initiatives will be more challenging.
Without such preparedness, supporting the implementation of the circular economy and the benefits of treating discarded plastics as a resource will be more difficult.
To the greatest extent possible, action will be impossible unless we educate people across the United States about the effects of plastic waste on our water, including both ordinary people and politicians.
It is impossible to compel people to do something and have them do it efficiently. It will be more challenging to persuade specific significant socioeconomic sectors and the public to change their behaviour and contribute to the broader aim of eliminating marine plastics. Only with public help will we be able to tackle the plastic pollution challenge.
To raise awareness, it is critical to leverage expertise from the social sciences, especially psychological studies, to better understand risk perceptions, social obligations, and the drivers of behaviour in both the public and private sectors. The United States has conducted only a cursory examination into the effects of enacting plastic ban laws on businesses and communities on a federal level.
Before taking any significant steps, it’s imperative to do so. As part of these studies, regional, cultural, gendered, economic, educational, and other demographic differences would be considered for assessing perceptions and behaviours.
We won’t see plastics disappear soon, but we can still prevent an environmental catastrophe. There is currently little regulation of plastic pollution. As we look to secure safe water systems for our next generation, we should make more significant strides.
If you liked this article, check out Climate Changes and Global Warming.