Plastic pollution may be a relatively new term, but it’s one that’s been around for a long time. Plastic is made from petroleum products, and when that plastic is thrown away, it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces that are so small they can’t be detected with the naked eye. This tiny plastic debris makes its way into the ocean and is truly becoming a global problem. With consumers throwing away so much plastic, what can we do to stop the pollution? There are some simple things we can do.
Plastic pollution is a growing problem for our planet. In 2016, scientists estimated between 8.3 and 11.8 trillion pieces of plastic litter our beaches, forests, waterways, and oceans. This amount of waste equates to about 1,000 pieces for every man, woman, and child on Earth. Additionally, about 90 percent of marine turtles have ingested plastic. Plastic pollution is also present in our food, particularly the fish we eat. Researchers estimate that around 10 percent of the fish sold in the European Union contains microplastics. Even bottled water, which is supposed to be clean and safe to drink, has been found to contain microplastics.
Plastic pollution in the oceans is a big problem. The polymers that make up plastics are made from oil and natural gas, both non-renewable resources. Not only is this bad for the environment, but it’s also bad for us. Chemicals in plastics leach into our food, water, and air, and we may never fully know what damage they are doing to our health.
Plastic pollution is a huge problem, but it isn’t an easy problem to solve. Plastic pollution takes many forms, from microplastics in our water to plastic in our oceans and littering our streets. Plastic is made from petroleum, and petroleum is a finite resource. Plastic recycling, while better than throwing plastic in the trash, is not a perfect solution. Only about 10 percent of plastics are in good enough condition to be recycled, according to Nature. And recycling plastic into something new still uses up scarce petroleum, which may or may not come from non-plastic resources.
Plastic is one of the most popular materials on the planet, but it’s made from petroleum, non-renewable resources. The plastic industry uses petroleum to make plastic, and the industry uses plastic to make new products. This means a single plastic water bottle can take decades to degrade, and many plastic bottles end up in landfills.
Perhaps you have heard the statistic that 1 million metric tons of plastic end up in our oceans every year. This statistic is shocking and all the more reason to combat plastic pollution and prevent much more plastic waste from ending up in the ocean. Since there is so much plastic in the ocean, it’s extremely difficult to clean up. As a result, some organizations are putting recycling systems in place that reduce and eventually eliminate plastic waste from existing landfills and landfills-to-be.
Buy second-hand items
Did you know that a whopping 79 percent of plastic is only used once and then discarded?1 That’s a lot of unused plastic! Thankfully, there are a growing number of companies, like Bea Johnson’s Zero Waste Home, aiming to divert plastics from landfills into reusable products. If you’ve thought about making a change but don’t want to fully commit to an earth-friendly lifestyle, you can simply swap some plastic for reusable alternatives.
Cook instead of getting takeout
One of the biggest ways that people contribute to plastic pollution is by eating out. Often, people choose to eat out because they don’t have time for a healthy home-cooked meal or are too tired to cook. But, eating out actually has a very high carbon footprint which pollutes our environment.
Did you know that the average American uses 500 plastic shopping bags each year? It’s such a problem that we have national plastic bag bans littered across the country and a growing movement to ban them altogether. But what can you do? Instead of purchasing plastic grocery bags, bring your own reusable bags to the grocery store, or even better, learn how to make plastic-free meals at home. You’d be surprised by how easy it is to cook over takeout, save money and plastic, and (yes) get healthier in the process.