The answer to the question, why is plastic a problem, is simple: The world has become a plastic dumping ground. Plastic is pervasive such that we hardly pay attention. We do this to the detriment of our planet and our lives. By 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. Plastic is in marine and wildlife around the world. It is also in us.
There are so many great uses for plastic, but we are addicted – especially to single-use plastic. How did this happen?
Plastic was invented in 1907. Single-use plastics started in 1959 with the creation of the plastic bag. Then came the creation of the plastic bottle (for water and soda) in 1973. The convenience plastic afforded, plus lower production and shipping costs increased company profits. Companies could create products with no responsibility for the waste. Today our single-use plastic stats are astonishing and growing. The ‘use and toss’ plastic habit is rampant.
The world produces over 380 million tons of plastic per year! Of this, 50% is for single-use plastic.
- 500 billion plastic water bottles a year (> 1 million a day)
- 500 billion plastic cups per year
- 500 million straws per year
- Plus an incredible amount of plastic packing waste
By now, you may be thinking, this is not a problem as you recycle plastic. Well, not true. Less than 10% of plastic is recycled.
Why isn’t plastic recycled? We created a product that does not decompose or regenerate. Plastic is created from petroleum. During the production process, CO2 is released into the air. Chemicals are added to produce products for wonderful uses, such as medical devices and wasteful single-use products. Remember that 50% of the plastic created is used for single-use products and tossed away in minutes. After use, those single-use plastic products head to landfills and into waterways. In landfills, a small amount of plastic is incinerated, emitting chemicals into the atmosphere. Most of the plastic remains in the landfill forever.
Every plastic toothbrush you have ever used is still here.
But what about those recycle labels on plastic?
It is easy to be confused as the label on plastic looks like a recycle symbol with a number. This symbol indicates the type of plastic. Only categories 1 and 2 are candidates for recycling. Of the plastic in categories 1 and 2, only 29-30% gets recycled while others cannot be recycled. While you put plastics into the blue recycling bin, over 90% still goes to the landfill.
We are creating an overwhelming amount of plastic waste.
Our oceans are getting clogged with single-use plastic products and also microplastics. Plastics don’t break down, they break up into small pieces called microplastics. In the last 60 years, our use of plastic has resulted in microplastics just about everywhere. Microplastics end up in the waterways, are eaten by wildlife, and have made it inside our bodies. At this time, we do not know the effects of long-term exposure to plastics and the chemicals used in processing them.
These stats tell a sobering story about plastic pollution:
- 13.9 million tons of plastic are going into our oceans every year (#1)
- More than a garbage truckload of plastic goes into our ocean every minute (#2)
- It’s estimated that over 165 million tons of plastic are in the oceans (#1)
- 90 percent of seabirds are likely to have plastic in their guts (#1)
- Humans eat over 40 pounds of plastic in a lifetime (#2)
- Plastic microfibers from washing our clothes are going into our waterways.
- There will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050 (#1)
We need to take action and reduce our plastic usage to protect our oceans, our wildlife, and people.
While we need to look for more ways to recycle and to remove as much plastic as possible from our oceans, it is not enough. No waste and recycling system in the world can handle the plastic waste we are creating.
What can you do?
People around the world are reducing their plastic usage. One good source is the book, How to Give Up Plastic by Will McCallum. We firmly agree with McCallum that, “Every victory against plastic begins with a single person or small group.” Now we know that plastic is choking our planet and harming our lives. It makes sense to take action. People are going plastic-free.
Begin with small changes to reduce your plastic footprint. Then move on to refusing plastic whenever possible. Start by buying and using reusable items. Support cities and local communities banning single-use plastic. Tell everyone you know what you now know and ask them to join in.
No change is too small. Here are two joyful changes that make a measurable difference.
- The average American uses 365 plastic bags per year. Make the change to reusable bags.
- The average American uses 13 plastic bottles per month. Make the change to a reusable water bottle.
Making just these two joyful changes will reduce plastic by 365 bags and 156 water bottles a year! Imagine how that reduction adds up as more people like you make the same habit change.
Individual actions make a difference. Everything starts small and grows into a wave that makes a difference. Our wonderful planet and our lives are worth it. Join the people around the world in reducing plastic. Please share your plastic-free stories with us!
#plasticfreejuly #breakfreefromplastic @one_planet_life