Humans have a knack for inventing things that make life easier, and plastic is one of them. Its incredible strength, durability and lightness makes it ideal for a huge variety of products, from simple food and liquid packaging, to complex space station components.
But our tireless desire for advancement can lead us astray, and every new fangled thing we invent has consequences. Disposable plastic has proven to be an ecological disaster, with the material found from the isolated reaches of Antarctica, to the abyss of the Mariana Trench. It’s estimated that by 2050, there’ll be a tonne of plastic for every tonne of fish.5
Humanity doesn’t know how to cope with the excess of plastic that we produce in our modern economies, and with the material entrenched in our lifestyles, it’s difficult for us to avoid. While we can’t completely avoid disposable plastic, we can reduce the amount we use by becoming more conscious of our consumption, and by understanding the benefits of reducing plastic waste.
Here are some of the most important reasons for you to reduce your disposable plastic consumption, and some plastic waste facts that may shock you.
Less plastic = less carbon dioxide
With global temperatures ever-rising, and climate scientists screaming at politicians to find a unified solution, reducing carbon dioxide is crucial. The majority of plastic is produced using non-renewable fossil fuels such as oil, with an estimated 4% of the world’s petroleum being used to make it.1 This produces a staggering amount of carbon dioxide, amplifies the greenhouse effect, and warms our planet even more.
By reducing your disposable plastic consumption, you’re also reducing demand for it, which means whoever you’re buying it from is less likely to keep on making it. In our capitalist economy, if we want large corporations to make less plastic, one of the best ways is to stop buying their plastic products. Climate change is the issue of our lifetime, and while it’s difficult for us to influence government policy, we can protest with our wallets and discourage the production of plastic.
Less recycling = less carbon dioxide
As with every energy-consuming process, recycling creates carbon dioxide. While recycling is good for our planet after disposable plastic has been created, we’ll save even more energy by not creating it in the first place. You don’t need to waste energy on recycling something that doesn’t exist.
Plastic waste statistics show that only 9% of plastic gets recycled.1 Much of the rest ends up in the ocean, or inside animals, which brings us to our next point.
Consuming less plastic saves animals
With between 10 to 20 million tons of plastic going into the ocean every year,1 it’s inevitable that some of it will affect sea animals. The problem isn’t foolish seals gobbling up coke bottles, but tiny pieces of broken down plastic called microplastics, that are difficult to see.
Microplastics are found inside the bodies of seals, whales, dolphins, seabirds, fish, crabs, and all manner of other animals living in our oceans. The toxicity of the plastic can lead to disease, and affect an animal’s ability to reproduce. In some instances, the animal might suffer in pain for a long time before eventually dying. 80% of these microplastics come from plastic products that we use, such as bottles and bags.
It isn’t just consumption that’s an issue, animals can become entangled in all kinds of plastic waste such as bags, nets, and bands, lacking the thumbs or understanding on how to get themselves out, as evidenced by this tragic, award-winning photo from the National Geographic:
Ever thought of sauteing a plastic shopping bag, and serving it with a side of delicious dauphinoise potatoes? Us neither. But as plastic breaks down in the environment to create microplastics, we end up consuming it. According to a study in the Environmental Science and Technology journal, each of us could be ingesting between 39,000 to 74,000 microplastic particles a year.3 Australia’s ABC News puts the estimate at 104,000 particles, which is the equivalent of eating a credit card a week.6 If you drink a lot of bottled mineral water, you’re probably consuming a lot more microplastic, with much higher concentrations of particles found when compared to tap water.6
The chemicals that leach out of plastic are toxic, and when inside our bodies, they can lead to an appalling number of health issues, including:4
Increased risk of stroke
If we want to stop ingesting plastic, we’d do well to reduce the amount of disposable plastic we use.
Less plastic makes our water cleaner
When plastic doesn’t end up in the ocean, it usually goes into landfill. As every bottle, bag, toothbrush, and piece of films breaks down, toxic chemicals leach out of them and seep into the groundwater below, joining our planet’s natural water cycle. Once this happens, the chemicals get into everything, including the soil we use to grow our food, the water we drink, bathe and swim in, and the animals we eat. Everything becomes a little more toxic.
Less plastic makes our food safer
We use soil and water to grow most of our food, and as more plastic chemicals leach into the ground and water system, they eventually find their way into our food. It doesn’t matter whether the food is organically-grown, GM-free, or anything else, it’s all farmed using the earth’s water, which has existed on our planet for around two billion years and is now being contaminated with toxic chemicals.
Less plastic makes our air safer
If polluting our food and water wasn’t enough, plastic also poisons the air that we breathe. An experiment in Paris discovered up to 60 plastic fibres per square meter in indoor air, and 1.5 fibres per square metre in the air outside. Another study estimated exposure of up to 68,000 microplastic particles just from dust that falls onto our food.6
Our species’s drive for technological advancement has led to better healthcare, longer life expectancies, and immeasurable wealth. But despite our genius, not everything that we create is good—a point bitterly obvious from the effects of disposable plastic on our planet. As we choke our soil, oceans and atmosphere with microplastics, so we choke ourselves, ever-slowly tipping the balance of our ecological system towards disaster.
With global warming on the rise, and climate scientists pulling their fast-greying hair out, we must do what we can to curb global warming, and we can do so by reducing the amount of plastic in our environment. Not only will less plastic help to reduce carbon emissions, it’ll also protect our wildlife and food sources, and reduce the ever-increasing toxicity of our air and water.
Nobody should be eating the equivalent of a credit card a week in plastic. Big changes have small beginnings, and if every one of us does our bit, we can help to restore our planet and ourselves to good health.
Want to learn more?
You might be interested in checking out our other environmental blogs, to make that little bit of difference to our wonderful planet: