The fundamental problem with plastic is that it is so damn handy. So handy in fact that it’s impossible to imagine a world without it. The second problem with plastic is that it is a manufacturers dream. Plastic is cheap to produce, lightweight and very adaptable. Unfortunately, we now know that it’s the earth and the animals who inhabit it (ourselves included) who are paying the real price for our dependence on plastic.
So what’s the big deal with plastic pollution? Let’s start at the beginning with plastic production.
The Production of Plastic
Plastic comes from fossil fuels which we all know is a non-renewable and finite resource. Fossil fuels have long been associated with increased levels of C02 in our atmosphere contributing to global warming. However, it’s not just the fossil fuels themselves that are the problem. Pollution caused by oil spills and the destruction of natural habitats during extraction are incredibly damaging to our natural ecology. Furthermore converting fossil fuels to plastic as creates air pollution and often happens in countries with low working standards.
Plastic Pollution and Our Health
Plastics contain additives that over time and with repeat use can migrate into the products we consume. Think about our sandwiches wrapped in clingfilm, plastic lunch boxes and bottled water. There is a lot of concern around the common additive BPA (Bisphenol A – a chemical used to harden plastics). Although it is FDA approved there are growing concerns around its consequences on our health, especially for the young. Other plastic pollution health concerns include toxicity and carcinogens. If you want to know more here is a good resource. I’d recommend you take a deep breath first.
If that wasn’t enough to keep you up at night we now have the relatively new problem of micro-plastics. These are teeny tiny plastic particles that are appearing in our water and food. Yes, we are ingesting plastic! It’s too early to tell what sort of health effects this will have but I don’t imagine they are going to be positive.
Plastic Pollution on the Natural Environment
Every bit of plastic that has been produced since its invention in the early 1900s is still here today. That amounts to a whopping 8 billion metric tons of man-made plastic. Despite our best efforts only a fraction of what is produced gets recycled. Most plastic ends up in landfill, incineration plants or in our natural environment. We just have to look at the plastic islands we’ve created to see the devastating effects of plastic pollution on our natural landscape.
The Impact of Plastic on Animals
Plastic is effecting animals on every level of the supply chain. I’m going to let Sir David Attenborough illustrate this point in this two minute video.
What’s the Solution to Plastic Pollution?
The bad news is that for the most part we are stuck with the plastic we’ve created. It’s clear that we need to dramatically curb our dependence. This systemic shift would require legislative change and grass roots pressure. A huge onus is on the plastic producers and manufacturers. We need to hold them to account for all the goods they produce. This could be achieved by implementing a closed loop recycling system. Streamlining the types of plastics that are brought to market could also help improve recycling rates. For the consumer all product labels need to carry clear recycling instructions.
The good news is that there are loads of positive things we can do to reduce our plastic dependency and get the grass roots movement in full swing.
How Can We Reduce Plastic Pollution?
1. This might seem too obvious to state but avoiding plastic wherever possible is a great place to start. Obeo now carries a range of plastic free products to help you with your plastic-free revolution.
2. Buy a reusable water bottle and coffee cup preferably made from glass or stainless steel otherwise opt for a BPA free plastic.
3. If you do buy plastic items avoid hybrids and stick to plastics that you know are recyclable.
4. Educate ourselves and our nearest and dearest about the global problem of plastic.