Why We Need To Stop Using Plastic + 16 Tips For Limiting Your Use
Plastic has established itself as a crucial element in the manufacturing industry and even in everyday life. We use it in helmets, grocery bags, cell phones, air conditioners, sunglasses, food packaging, and thousands of other products.
And while it has incredible utility as a material, our use of it has a lot of unintended consequences, both to our environment, animal life, and human health.
In a study published by Environmental Health News, and reported by Scientific American, sixty scientists created one of the first all-encompassing reviews of the side effects of using plastic on our health, the environment, and wildlife.
And it also suggests some alternatives.
According to David Barnes, an author, and researcher for the British Antarctic Survey, the accumulation of plastic material scattered across the globe is easily one of the most visible human-created changes.
For instance, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch – literally a giant collection of garbage floating around in the ocean – is now three times the size of France.
According to a study published in Scientific Reports, the giant garbage patch is 1.6 million square kilometers in size and is now 16 times bigger than what they initially estimated.
It’s double the size of the state of Texas.
And while we’re increasingly scrutinizing and questioning the use of plastics, we’re also using it more.
The mass-production of plastic began back in the 1940’s following the realization of its innumerable uses, due to its adaptability and resilience. Currently, no one can agree on just how long plastic lasts. Some think that it may last thousands of years.
In 2011, we created 280 million tonnes of plastic, and from the period of 2011-2016, scientists expected for us to use it 4% more each year.
In The Last Ten Years, We’ve Created More Plastic Than In The Entire 20th Century
The amount of plastic we produced in the last ten years equals more than what we created in the 20th century as a whole.
Of course, this is due to the rising level of industry around the globe, with developing nations now going through their own version of industrialization.
Richard Thompson, an author of the 2009 report, said that plastics persist for a long time and we could easily use them over and over again. But instead, we throw them into the trash after one use, where they then go on to sit in landfills.
When exposed to the sun, they slowly decompose, but rather than producing organic emissions that are useful to the environment and the surrounding habitat, they emit toxic chemicals that pollute the water and soil.
And the process by which we create plastic produces emissions and run-off that are hazardous to the human body upon absorption.
The effect on surrounding wildlife, especially fish, is immense, with marine animals dying from poisoning after ingesting plastic particles.
According to Ellen MacArthur – a world-renowned sailor and political activist – by the year 2050, there’s a good chance there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. Every day, a garbage truck’s worth of plastic is dumped into the ocean.
The chemicals making up phthalates, for example – which we use in the manufacturing of vinyl flooring, wall covers, food packaging, and medical devices – can be measured in eight out of every ten babies.
Many of the chemicals which companies use in the manufacturing of plastics are harmful to the reproduction and development of animals.
Studies show similar effects on the reproduction on humans too.
John Meeker, one of the researchers in the study, claimed they have literature on how its affecting animals, demonstrating links between exposure and health problems.
We All Probably Have Plastic In Our Bodies Right Now
And almost all adults – around 90% – have trace amounts of these chemicals in their bodies.
Bisphenol A, “BPA,” typically used for polycarbonate bottles and the linings of food and beverage cans, leach into our food and drinks.
According to a report from the United States Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, around 93% of people have a traceable amount of BPA-plastics in their urine.
And to researchers, the fact that premature infants are exposed to BPA and phthalates in intensive care units is something to worry about.
He added, “you take the whole picture and it does raise a lot of concern.”
One researcher, Shanna Swan, the director of the University of Rochester’s Center for Reproductive Epidemiology, conducted studies which discovered a link between altered genital development in baby boys and exposure to phthalates.
BPA may also increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes, and PBDE’s may damage the developing brain and reproductive system.
And while researchers have discovered a lot, they still don’t know enough.
Meeker explained that it’s not enough to have a few observational studies of humans and studies of animals.
What they need are different trials which show a “consistent pattern” of health risks from exposure to some of these plastic materials.
However, it’s difficult for researchers to conduct such studies because they’re 1) expensive, and 2) difficult to measure.
Moreover, researchers have only studied the effect of single chemicals and not the interaction of those chemicals with each other in the body.
It’s rare that there is one plastic chemical compound in a living thing at the same time.
There may also be effects on the human body at low doses, doses below those used in the EPA’s toxicity standards.
The Plastics Industry Denies Reports That Their Products Are Harmful
Interestingly, the plastics industry denies charges that their products produce harmful side effects.
Mike Neal, a specialist working for PlasticsEurope, said every ingredient they use is “carefully evaluated” not only by them but by government agencies.
And as you may have heard, the EPA just rolled back the levels of analysis and regulation on hazardous chemicals which we typically use in manufacturing and household products.
Not only do plastics have an adverse effect on the human body, but they also litter the environment and lead to animal consumption, wreaking havoc on surrounding ecosystems.
One-third of plastic created is used for disposable packings like bottles and bags, and a good portion of them sit in landfills for years and leak chemicals into the water table.
It isn’t hard to look at your own life, and ask: how much plastic am I using every day?
Even something as simple as going to the grocery store will introduce you to a plethora of plastic materials, from the packaging they use for nearly all the products in there, or the plastic bags they give to you after paying for your groceries.
In the last fifteen years, grocery stores have started to charge people for their plastic bags. It’s ironic that we’re paying money to poison ourselves and the world.
When a person thinks of the effects of plastic on animals, they probably think of the classic image of the bird with a Coke-can plastic necklace. However, the truth – and a far more common occurrence – is the ingestion of these materials by wildlife.
How could one forget the viral image of the bird with its stomach cut open, filled with plastic like old lighters and bottle caps?
And it doesn’t just affect the primary consumer of the plastic either.
When a bird eats the fish, it then takes in that same material, transferring the poison throughout the food chain, after say, a snake, or a falcon, eats the bird.
Scientists have documented the consumption of plastics from around 180 species of animals from marine mammals, turtles, and birds.
And, as it was noted above, the effects of chemicals like BPA’s and phthalates cause developmental problems in both amphibians and crustaceans.
Plastic Travels From Coast To Coast
Plastics travel all over the world and often go from coast to coast, where they aren’t exposed to as much UV rays and, where there are lower temperatures, so the plastic can last longer.
As an example of the easy mobility of plastic, Barnes explained that in far away regions such as the Amundsen Sea near Antarctica, which was incredibly difficult for them to get to, there are plastics floating around in that sea.
Even in a place that is extremely hard to get to, researchers discover plastic floating around on the sea surface.
Bacterias, algae, tube worms, barnacles and other wildlife can also float on the plastic and wreak havoc on foreign eco-systems. These are called invasive species.
An invasive species is an organism, animal, or plant that travels to a new location where the environment is not accustomed to it.
Often, human beings introduce species to another environment either directly or indirectly.
For instance, when Americans introduced the kudzu vines from Japan in the 19th century as an ornamental plant and food for grazing animals, the vine eventually spread and overgrew entire forests and trees.
Because of their mat-like structure, the vines wrap themselves thick over trees, essentially strangling the life out of them and blocking the sun’s rays.
They killed 80% of the trees in the south and it now has the nickname, “the vine that ate the South.”
Plastic Sits In Landfills
In addition to providing a vehicle for invasive species, plastic, as a substance, is so resilient and adaptable that even if we bury it deep into the earth, it still manages to affect the environment.
10% of the waste generated right now is due to plastics, and a lot of is landfilled.
The creation of plastic is an oil-heavy practice as well, as eight percent of our oil production is used for its creation.
If we’re going to continue producing plastic, we should address its sustainability and look at possible alternatives, perhaps as a re-usable commodity rather than one that we simply throw away.
One solution is to use plastic as a reusable material, manufacture it with fewer materials so it’s easier to recycle, and then add more recycling facilities.
Another thing we could do is create plastic which is more biodegradable, and created through the use of corn and soy. However, there is a concern that these materials won’t actually degrade to the point of naturally occurring in the environment.
They may just disintegrate into small pieces that aren’t any more dissolvable than regular practices.
One possible government policy that could help is to have stickers on the side of packaging which inform the consumer on its recyclability.
A green dot would mean that it’s easy to recycle, while a red dot means that it used a lot of materials.
It’s better that way then to just ban plastic altogether, because, if consumers have access to that information, as most people aren’t even aware of the consequences of their everyday choices, then they’ll make the better decision.
16 Tips For Reducing Your Plastic Consumption Today
Whether or not it’s the fault of the consumer or manufacturing companies, we, as a society, should probably consider how we can go about making changes beneficial to the environment.
If this article convinced you of the growing problem, then you’re probably wondering what you can do today to start reducing the amount of plastic you use (and consume).
Here is a list of things you can start doing today to reduce your plastic consumption:
1) stop using plastic straws.
2) stop chewing gum – as it’s made out of plastic that is not biodegradable
3) use a reusable bag for carrying groceries.
4) Buy boxes rather than plastic bottles and containers, as cardboard is easier to recycle.
5) Reuse plastic containers that you already own, just wash them whenever they get dirty.
6) Keep in mind what kind of products you buy when you shop, opt for items put in cardboard boxes rather than plastic packaging.
7) Use a reusable glass bottle for your drinks.
8) Bring a container to a restaurant if you get takeout, rather than using styrofoam containers.
9) Use matches rather than disposable plastic lighters. Or use a refillable metal zippo.
10) Avoid buying frozen foods that package their products in plastic.
11) Eat whole foods and fruits, rather than processed foods that are distributed in plastic containers.
12) Use cloth diapers rather than disposable diapers. The EPA estimates that around 7.6 billion pounds of disposable diapers are thrown away every single year.
13) Use vinegar and newspapers to clean your windows rather than Windex. It actually works!
14) buy biodegradable cleaning products that are certified by environmental organizations.
15) If you get coffee or tea every morning, reuse a container rather than using the one that they offer you.
16) use a razor that is replaceable rather than a disposable razor.
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