Type: Research Essays
Sample donated: Franklin Dunn
Last updated: September 19, 2019
By 2050, it is estimated that our oceans will contain more plastic than fish. It’s entering our food supply, choking out our planet, and causing animals to go sterile. Are humans next? We don’t want to find out.
WHAT DO WE DO?What do we do? The best known solution is to simply stop using plastic.That might sound impossible, or even unreasonable at first. After all, plastic is universal. Packaging, technology, construction – you name it, plastic is used for it.But consider this: plastic has only been in common use since the 1940’s. See, it was only just after WWII that plastic became popular for commercial and residential use. Plastic only seems universal because it was popularised so quickly.
In fact, it’s the very speed at which plastic was and is produced that is causing so many problems.THE PLASTIC PROBLEMWe know how to make plastic, but we don’t know how to get rid of it. About 83000 million tons of plastic have been created to date, and about 79% of that is currently sitting in landfills or the natural environment.What does this mean? Potential ecosystem collapse, food chain disruption, and widespread human disease are just part of a long list of critical dangers that plastic poses to our planet.Let’s explore the current situation we’ve gotten ourselves and our planet into with plastic.
PLASTIC AND HUMAN HEALTHPollutants in plastic food and water containers are leaching into our food and being consumed. These pollutants can cause a whole host of health problems including:CancerAbnormal male sexual developmentInfertilityAsthmaPremature breast developmentMiscarriagePremature birthPLASTIC AND THE ENVIRONMENTWhen it comes to the environment, the biggest problems with plastic are that we have way too much of it to dispose of properly, and once its in nature, plastic doesn’t biodegrade.Too Much Plastic, and In The Wrong PlacesAbout 83000 million tons of virgin plastic (brand new, unrecycled plastic) has been produced to dateOf that amount:9% of that has been recycled12% has been incinerated79% has accumulated in landfills or the natural environmentPLASTIC IS FOREVERNone of the commonly used plastics are easily biodegradable. The average time for a plastic bottle to completely degrade is at least 450 years. It can even take some bottles 100 years to do so.
As a result, all the plastic that ends up in the natural environment stays there.A NEW THREAT: MICROPLASTICSPlastic doesn’t just sit in drainage ditches or float in massive islands bigger than country of Mexico – it also enters the food chain. And this could potentially be very dangerous.
How it Gets ThereThe main way this happens – that we are aware of – is through phenomenon that starts with tiny bits of plastic, called microplastics, finding their way into the ocean. These tiny pieces are shed by ordinary plastic objects and then consumed by tiny ocean animals like plankton and small fish. Plastic-filled plankton and other organisms are then consumed by larger fish, which are in turn consumed by humans.What Might this Mean for AnimalsScientists don’t really know what the effects of all this plastic might be, but they are very nervous about it.
Pollutants like plastic affect animals’ hormone levels. When hormones are affected, behaviours are affected. And if behaviours are affected, it could disrupt the entire food chain, causing problems for the entire ecosystem. And new research has proved that plastics are causing some fish to become sterile or die before reaching reproductive age. If that kind of effect became widespread, it could end a species more or less immediately.
What Might this Mean for HumansScientists are even more unsure of what microplastics might do to humans. We know that we are consuming them, but we don’t know what the ill-effects might be.THE SOLUTION: END PLASTIC CONSUMPTIONIf production and waste management of plastic continues at the current rate, roughly 12,000 million tons will be in landfills or in the natural environment by 2050.Simply put, our planet can’t take that kind of punishment, and neither can we.
Plastic is already disrupting our hormones and choking out our environment.What will likely need to happen in order to eliminate this threat to our survival is an overhaul of the way we design and manufacture plastic goods. This would take a lot of work, but it’s not impossible.A recent study from the World Economic Forum showed that by redesigning materials and developing new technologies, plastics might never again have to end up in the oceans or in landfills.Finding the complete solution to the plastic problem could take years, but the time to act now.
This issue has reached a critical stage. We must act quickly.WHAT YOU CAN DO NOWIn today’s world, plastic is almost unavoidable.
It would be extremely difficult to stop using plastic altogether, so here is a list of things you can do to start solving the problem today:Educate yourself and others about the harmful effects of plastic pollutionBuy products with little to no plastic packaging Use recycled products Recycle as much as you can Dispose of waste properlyReduce the number of plastic products you useSupport companies that provide sustainable productsParticipate in community cleanup drives and encouraging local leaders to pass bans on plastic bags, styrofoam containers, etc.Avoid the use of plastic single-use items, such as plastic grocery bags, plastic tableware, plastic straws, and plastic cupsReport incidents of littering