Plastic Epidemic

Less than a fifth of all plastic gets recycled globally. In the U.S. it’s less than 10 percent. Plastic is not a problem, it is an epidemic.

Plastic pollution can afflict land, waterways and oceans. It is estimated that 1.1 to 8.8 million metric tons of plastic waste enters the ocean from coastal communities each year. As of 2018, about 380 million tons of plastic is produced worldwide each year. In 2012, it was estimated that there was approximately 165 million tons of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans. From the 1950’s up to 2018, an estimated 6.3 billion tons of plastic has been produced worldwide, of which an estimated 9% has been recycled and another 12% has been incinerated. About 8 percent of the world’s oil production is used to make plastic and power the manufacturing of it. That figure is projected to rise to 20 percent by 2050. Researchers are even beginning to uncover contaminated areas in even the deepest parts of the ocean. The process is not ending, it is still currently growing rapidly.

There are three major forms of plastic that contribute to plastic pollution: Micro plastics as well as mega- and macro-plastics. Micro debris are plastic pieces between 2 mm and 5 mm in size.

Plastic debris that starts off as meso- or macro debris can become micro debris through degradation and collisions that break it down into smaller pieces. Plastic debris is categorized as macro debris when it is larger than 20 mm. These include items such as plastic grocery bags. Plastics themselves contribute to approximately 10% of discarded waste.

Landfill areas contain many different types of plastics. In these landfills, there are many microorganisms which speed up the bio degradation of plastics. The microorganisms include bacteria such as Pseudomonas, nylon-eating bacteria, and Flavobacteria. These bacteria break down nylon through the activity of the nylonase enzyme. Breakdown of biodegradable plastics releases methane, a very powerful greenhouse gas that contributes significantly to global warming.

Chlorinated plastic can release harmful chemicals into the surrounding soil, which can then seep into groundwater or other surrounding water sources and also the ecosystem of the world. This can cause serious harm to the species that drink the water.

Due to the pervasiveness of plastic products, most of the human population is constantly exposed to the chemical components of plastics. 95% of adults in the United States have had detectable levels of BPA in their urine. Exposure to chemicals such as BPA have been correlated with disruptions in fertility, reproduction, sexual maturation, and other health effects. Specific phthalates have also resulted in similar biological effects. 

With society becoming more aware as time moves forward, many communities and non-profit organizations have joined hands in efforts to help clean up our current waste and find new methods to reduce waste that enters the environment. Recognizing and understanding the current state that the world is in is half of the battle. The other half is taking responsibility and making a change. Change will only make history with time.

Here are some basic everyday items that can easily be replaced with little to no effort. The list does not cover all of what needs to be done but, simply what can be done by anyone during their everyday tasks.

  • Make your own bread.
  • Buy bread from bakeries that package in paper.
  • Clean with baking soda and vinegar instead of cleaners packaged in plastic.
  • Buy farm fresh eggs in reusable paper containers.
  • Don’t buy beverages bottles in plastic. Glass is great.
  • Buy bulk coffee packaged in paper or in cans, or bring your own bags.
  • Buy milk in paper cartons.
  • Buy toilet paper that is wrapped in paper, not plastic.
  • Use real silverware for parties instead of plastic.
  • Use rechargeable batteries to reduce buying batteries packaged in plastic.
  • Carry own containers for take out food/food to go.
  • Use a bar of soap instead of bottled soap.
  • Get rid of the plastic shaving razors and buy reusable safety razors.
  • Plastic free brushes and combs.
  • Plastic free toothbrush and dental floss.
  • Plastic free rags and towels.
  • Plastic free eating and drinking utensils.
  • Plastic free cooking utensils.
  • Plastic free pens and pencils.
  • Plastic free sponges.
  • Plastic free clothes hangers
  • Plastic free sandwich bag.
  • Plastic free fork.
  • Plastic free knife.
  • Plastic Water Bottle.
  • Plastic free grocery bag.
  • Plastic free veggie bags

One change in a daily routine from this list can be the next generations way to a better and more sustainable future.