Since its invention in 1907, a giant environmental problem has been staring the world in the face, but we’ve done little about it. Plastic can be cheap to produce, so it is manufactured in high volumes. However, plastic is also usually discarded as litter. As a result, the bulk of the world’s trash is plastic. Maybe if plastic weren’t harmful to the environment, loaded with toxins or almost impossible to break down, it wouldn’t be that big of a deal. Unfortunately, all of those problems with plastic are very real and very unsettling.
Most plastic never really decomposes. It is photodegradable, meaning it decomposes in the sunlight, but it hardly ever completely disappears. All types of plastic decompose at different rates, but the average time for plastic to decompose is 450 years. So the next time you don’t recycle your plastic water bottle, take a minute and think about how long it will be sitting in a landfill somewhere. In the meantime, take a look at these three big plastic problems.
Plastic Is a Danger to Aquatic Life
Plastic is destroying aquatic life all over the world. In fact, 80 percent of ocean debris is plastic. Scientists say that 4.8 million tons of plastic floats into oceans and seas each year all over the world. That number is inconceivable. Birds, fish and other sea animals eat this toxic substance. They can also become entangled in it, strangled and contaminated by it.
Plastic water bottles and plastic bags aren’t the only thing clogging our waterways. Microbeads also pose a dangerous threat to the environment. Those shower gels, toothpastes and facial scrubs that you use every day put aquatic life in danger. The microbeads in those products are supposed to exfoliate and clean skin. However, they don’t dissolve, so they wash down the drain and into the waterways. Fish mistake the microbeads as food and scientists are still researching whether or not the chemicals are dangerous for marine life to ingest.
Thankfully, the U.S. House of Representatives voted unanimously to prohibit the manufacturing of microbeads starting in January 2018. The U.S. Senate still needs to vote on a national ban, but hopefully, this is a step in the right direction when it comes to plastic damaging marine life.
Plastic Sustains the Oil Industry
It takes 331 billion barrels of petroleum to produce plastic, and 17 million barrels of petroleum go toward producing water bottles in the United States. We all know that the production of oil can be harmful to our environment, but what some people don’t know is that it’s not just cars, trucks and SUVs that are contributing to air pollution. The petroleum used in the production of plastic is also contributing to air and water pollution. So when we use plastic bags, bottles and other products, we are fueling the oil industry and destroying the environment.
Plastic Releases Harmful Toxins
It’s not just marine life that is at risk. Humans are susceptible to the toxins from plastics, too. Unfortunately, it’s really hard to avoid the dangerous effects of plastic. People might be exposed to the chemicals in plastic through water, food, air or dust. Your house might even be composed of harmful plastic materials. Plastic is used in the manufacturing of vinyl flooring, toys, medical equipment and food packaging.
Bisphenol A (BPA), phthalates and flame retardants are all used in the production of plastic. All three of these chemicals are dangerous for humans to come into contact with. There are limited studies on the effects of these chemicals and humans, but there are plenty of studies done on animals that show the dangerous effects of plastic on health. According to Scientific American, people who have high exposure to BPA are at risk of heart disease and diabetes.
World Centric suggests you should think twice before heating up leftover food in a plastic container. Polystyrene containers are notorious for leaking toxins into hot foods or drinks. These toxins cause potential problems for the kidneys and gastrointestinal system. Polyvinyl chloride plastic (PVC), also known as vinyl, is one of the most dangerous substances made by man. The toxins leaked by PVC materials are linked to cancer, immune system damage and hormone changes and disruptions.
While it may seem like avoiding plastic is nearly impossible, obviously a change is needed. It is neither sustainable nor responsible to continue to produce so many plastic materials at such an alarming rate. While plastic production should be more regulated, there are still small changes you can make at home to avoid the dangers of plastic. Use reusable water bottles and tote bags in order to cut down on the plastic in your home. You may want to think about changing your diet, too. Invest in your community by buying products from local farmers. Buy fresh and unpackaged food to avoid the toxins caused by plastic packaging.
The next time you reach for a plastic water bottle, remember that when you buy plastic you are supporting an industry that is damaging our environment and our health. It’s important to make smart choices and make the dangers of plastic known to friends and community leaders.
Megan Ray Nichols likes blogging about environmental issues. Now that you know a little bit more about pollution, you might want to get more acquainted with sustainability. She invites you to join the discussion!