The problem with plastic in the world and the issue of single use plastic
Each year approximately 400 million tons of plastic are produced and production rates continue to increase globally. Plastic has become part of our everyday lives. It’s in our water bottles and shopping bags, our shoes and clothing, and our cars and airplanes.
The problem is that most plastic isn’t biodegradable – it won’t break down and return to the environment like paper or food. Instead, it can stay in the environment for hundreds of years, harming marine life, running air quality, and jeopardising human health.
Much of the conversation revolves around plastic waste infiltrating our oceans. We’ll get to that soon! The narrow focus on marine debris, however, leaves much of the plastic problem untold.
Plastic is made from fossil fuels including oil and natural gas and is a growing source of industrial greenhouse gas emissions. Each stage in the plastic life-cycle – extraction, manufacturing, and disposal – produces harmful greenhouse gas emissions. As production rates continue to rise, the damage to our planet will continue to increase as well. By 2050 plastic production alone will be responsible for up to 13% of the total carbon budget.
Within the plastics family, 40% of all plastic produced is considered single-use, or disposable. These plastics are used only once before they’re discarded. Plastic bags, coffee stirrers, food packaging, water bottles, and straws are all examples of single-use plastics. They’re everywhere!
Take plastic bags – each year, Americans use more than 100 billion plastic bags and only 1 percent are returned for recycling. The average bag is used for only 12 minutes and takes 500 years to degrade in a landfill.
Of the plastic waste produced between 1950 and 2015, only nine percent was recycled! The overwhelming majority of plastic ends up in landfills, releasing toxins or other dangerous elements into our environment. The rest enters the ocean where it harms marine life and pollutes our water.
Each year, over 8 million tons of plastic enter the ocean, killing over 100,000 sea animals annually. At the current rate, there will be more plastic in our oceans than marine life by 2050. When fish ingest plastic, they suffer from intestinal injuries, digestion problems, and often die. As more fish consume plastics, risk spreads across the food chain, to bigger fish and marine mammals. But it’s not just sea animals that are affected. Plastic garbage in the ocean moves with currents, introducing non-indigenous and invasive pollutants and bacteria into new ecosystems, threatening marine environments everywhere.
It will take a global effort to reduce plastic production and consumption, but we’ll need it to save our oceans, our air, and our planet.