Plastic Pollution and How it Affects Us Today

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Plastic Pollution and How it Affects Us Today

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Plastic pollution has been a problem that has never seemed to go away over the last few decades, and it is all thanks to the constant usage of one-time use wrappers and containers. Although cheaper and more efficient for companies, is it really helping us to rely on the instant gratification of plastic? The answer is clearly “No”. The constant usage of plastic in our everyday lives, causes problems for both our health and environment.  

 

Our stance on plastic usage today:

Each year, an estimated 18 billion pounds of plastic waste enters the world’s oceans from coastal regions. The year 2018, seemed to be no different. About 40 percent of all plastic produced is used in packaging. However, much of that is used only once and then discarded. Less than a fifth of all plastic is recycled in the world, though many countries claim to be working on that through new technology and programs. In terms of usage in the United States, a person will learn that over 500 million plastic straws are used every day, 100 billion single use plastic bags are used by Americans yearly, and 9.1 billion (US) Tons of plastic have been produced since plastic was introduced in the 1950s. The amount of plastic produced in a year is roughly the same as the entire weight of humanity. Although these facts are concerning, it seems that the information given goes through one ear, and out the other.

The recycling problem:

Numerous people have also started to point out that it is not the amount of plastic itself, but rather, the inability to find reliable ways to recycle many plastics and the biodegradability of them. There are two basic types of plastics: Thermoset vs. Thermoplastics. Thermoset plastics are supposed to be plastics that can be re-melted and re-molded into new products, and therefore, recycled. However, most thermoset plastics still “contain polymers that cross-link to form an irreversible chemical bond,” meaning that no matter how much heat is applied, the plastics cannot be broken down. Most of the so-called “recyclable” plastics, are classified and seem to completely refute the purpose of what they are made for.

Another problem pointed out is the fact that plastics have to be clean in order to be recycled. The fact the most “recyclable” plastics can not be recycled, then have to be completely clean, seem to deem a huge problem for recycling centers. For the small amount of plastics actually reusable, many of them will not be clean. Some companies are starting to actually pay attention and clean plastics before they reheat and melt them. However, many still do not, because it takes effort to clean plastics, and companies are competing against “virgin” materials that are brand new. One of the only few reasons some companies do not mind using reused plastic is because it is cheaper to buy. Recycling centers will sell plastic for 20-30% off of the original price.

 

Why should we care? And why should we start using alternatives?

 

The effects on us:

Plastics originally caused concern due to the findings of their dangerous health hazards. Plastics have been found to have Bisphenol 1 or BPA, which has been found to  have severe and adverse health outcomes such as cancers, birth defects, impaired immunity, endocrine disruption, developmental and reproductive problems.  How is this possible? When food is wrapped or water is stored in plastic containing BPA, phthalates may leak into food or drink. Any transmission of chemicals is likely to be greater when in contact with fatty foods, such as meats and cheeses, rather than with other foods.

One of the concerning parts of the discovery is how abundant and prevalent illnesses are because of the plastic in our bodies. According to a National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey produced by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, BPA was found in 93% of urine samples taken from people above the age of six. Even scarier is that BPA is showing up in babies as well because breast milk of most women in the developed world contains dozens of compounds including BPA, that have been linked to negative health effects. Lately, the USDA has finally started to warn consumers about the health effects of plastics on the body, and have urged people and companies to start going towards BPA free plastics. The only problem? Scientists say BPA free plastics may not always be better either, since other chemicals  can lace into your foods and drinks. Those other chemicals can be just as harmful.

 

The effects on animals:

It is pretty clear that plastic pollution has caused a decline or negative status somewhere in the ecosystem. One of the biggest concerns is the Earth’s decline in biodiversity. Although this is due to multiple factors, plastic pollution was said to play a major role in the decline, along with global warming, overfishing and mining. According to a report, the time span of a 40 year period between 1970 and 2014 saw that the population of animals such as mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish populations declined by 52% on average. In terms of plastic pollution, in 2014, the State University of New York found an average of 8 pieces of plastic in small-sized fish, 20 pieces in medium-sized fish, and 44 pieces in cormorants, large sea birds that eat these fish. Worldwide, The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimates that plastic debris kill over 100,000 marine mammals, and millions of fish and seabirds, every year.

Plastic pollution is a worldwide problem that seems to still persist over the span of years. Even if we start truly working on the problem now, it will take decades to reverse some of the effects on both humans and the ecological system. So, why not start now? Although it seems Cliché, it is important to start recycling cleaned plastics, and using more eco-friendly resources. Instead of plastic straws, try paper. Instead of plastic, try glass or stainless steel containers for lunch. There are various steps a person could take to  help reduce plastic pollution.It is always important to remember that there is only one earth we live on and we need to take care of it.