Plastic has become a valuable necessity of the contemporary world, yet this resource will soon be the cause of the downfall of our ecosystems.
Leo Baekeland, a U.S. industrial chemist, invented the world’s first synthetic plastic, originally called Bakelite, in 1907. Its invention was revolutionary. It ushered in a new era of affordable and convenient consumer goods, making it possible for the market and its consumers to enjoy products that previously had been inaccessible. Its use has become addictive, as expected of something so simple and convenient, however, its consequences outweigh these satisfactions.
What is plastic pollution?
Plastic pollution is the accumulation of synthetic plastic products in the environment. It has become one of the most pressing environmental issues, as rapidly increasing production and ubiquitous use of disposable plastic products is overwhelming the world’s ability to deal with them. This is getting severe to the point where they are creating various problems for wildlife and their habitats, as well as human populations.
Plastic pollution is more prominent in underdeveloped areas with inefficient or no garbage collecting systems in place. However, this happens all over the globe and the developed world also struggles with properly collecting discarded plastics and several countries have low recycling rates.
Single-use plastics account for 40 percent of the plastic produced every year. Many of these products, such as plastic bags, disposable utensils, and food wrappers, have a lifespan of mere minutes to hours, yet their existence remains in the environment for hundreds of years. These one-time used products can easily be replaced with more sustainable options. A change in something that seems so minor can already eliminate such a large percentage of plastic waste.
Over 8 million tons of plastic end up in our oceans every year and makeup 80% of all marine debris. These items are polluting and poisoning ocean waters and threatening the lives of our marine wildlife.
Plastics are carried and flown through water systems such as rivers which then drain into the ocean. They then get broken down into smaller pieces, called microplastics, and get ingested by fish and other marine life. As a result, the toxins from the plastics enter the food chain and pose a threat to human health. For the pieces that don’t get broken down, many animals get entangled in and starve to death. Seals, turtles, and other animals often get strangled by abandoned fishing gear or discarded six-pack rings.
But it’s not too late, here are a few things you can do to help:
- Reduce your use of single-use, disposable plastics.
When going out to eat or when ordering food, avoid the consumption of single-use plastics by rejecting plastic utensils, straws, wrappings, and plastic bags. When hosting parties and other events, lay off purchasing plastic utensils, cups, and plates.
- Stop buying water
Nearly 20 billion plastic bottles are discarded every year. While it may seem fine to many since they can be recycled, a majority of them are not recycled properly or at all. A better alternative is to use a sustainable and reusable bottle.
- Shop smart
When buying products you tend to use often, consider buying in bulk. Think about the product-to-packaging ratio of these items. Buying a bigger container uses less plastic compared to several small ones and buying in bulk often saves you some money. When checking out, bring a reusable bag instead of purchasing and using plastic bags.
- Participate in or organize a beach cleanup
This is one of the most direct and rewarding ways to contribute to the fight against ocean plastic pollution. By doing this, you are helping remove plastics from the ocean and spreading awareness about plastic pollution.
- Help support organizations with missions directed towards solving plastic pollution
There are a number of non-profit organizations working to reduce and eliminate ocean plastic pollution including the Surfrider Foundation, The Ocean Cleanup, Ocean Conservancy, and many others! These organizations rely on donations to continue their work, and even small donations can make a big difference. However, if you are not able to donate to an organization, there are still other ways to support them, such as spreading awareness about their work and mission.
Do your part in helping save the earth today!
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Nathalie Leung is an outstanding freshman at the prestigious Harvard Westlake High School living in Los Angeles, California. Her passion in research, learning, and sharing knowledge has led her to pursuing journalism and writing with The Teen Pop Magazine.