Plastic is one of the most widely used materials in today’s world. Since the beginning of conventional plastics mass production in the 1950s when petroleum became inexpensive and was believed to be bountiful, plastics have been produced in abundance around the world for a large variety of uses. Plastics are extremely present in our everyday lives, and a few uses include single use food and shipping packaging, shopping bags, car parts and even home construction.
The production process used to make plastics consumes about 10% of oil and gasoline both produced and imported by the U.S. Globally, the production of plastic accounts for 270 million tons of oil and gasoline in order to meet the demand for plastic products. When a plastic’s usefulness is over, it is readily dumped into landfills and ocean environments. This nonchalant attitude towards our levels of plastic production, consumption and waste is quite concerning because plastics can persist for over 2,000 years without biodegrading. With our growing global population and unwavering consumption of plastic, we are headed towards running out of space fast.
Plastics have been used so often over the past several decades because of their assorted benefits. They are flexible and durable, while also being considered the most cost efficient option for many years. Despite the many benefits that plastics offer, the negative impact of plastics has become a global problem that is affecting many aspects of human life and our local and global environments. Plastics entering the waste stream are dealt with in one of three ways: incineration, burial or recycling, but none of these three options are very favorable because of the lasting effects they create.
Many plastic products are considered to be at the end of their life and are thrown out in less than a year after being manufactured. When a plastic product is at the end of its life (EOL), this means that the product is at the end of its useful life for the purpose it was created for (for example, after the food has been consumed from a single use food package). This non-biodegradable plastic waste has been rapidly accumulating worldwide in our landfills, waterways, oceans and even as litter in our communities and natural areas.
Plastic waste is not just a problem because it takes up large amounts of space, but there are a variety of other concerns with plastic. Various chemical additives in plastics have a strong tendency to leach in whatever environment that they are discarded in. These chemicals expose humans to harmful toxins which have been linked to adverse health issues. Chemical exposure from plastics can be ingested through food and water, inhaled through air contamination and even just by touching someone’s skin.
Marine plastic pollution has significant environmental, economic, cultural and aesthetic costs. Ocean debris has been assessed to be 60 – 80% petroleum-based plastic. Plastic pollution enters the marine environment via rivers, beaches, maritime activities and illegal dumping at sea. Through methods of degradation out at sea, plastic loses its elasticity, and moved by wind and waves, gradually breaks into smaller particles. The Great Pacific Garbage Island, located in North Pacific Gyre, consists largely of plastic. Here researchers have found over 5 tons of plastic debris per square kilometer.
Marine environments are continually becoming more and more filled with plastic pollution and the debris can sink to the ocean depths or float for decades. The danger to marine creatures is inevitable. Plastic segments can entangle the marine animals preventing movement, breathing or digestion. The smaller plastic fragments, called microplastic, present an additional problem for marine life. The colorful microplastics are mistaken for food and ingested by marine life. The majority of marine species that have been evaluated for ingestion of debris have some form of plastic or fishing-related line in their body. Chemicals that can leach out of plastic also disrupt endocrine function in animals, which could potentially affect reproductive patterns and interfere with sea life populations.
Plastic has become a popular product of choice by many industries because of its high stability, durability and low cost….but we have learned that these benefits are far outweighed by the negatives. We can no longer sit idly by. We know that there is a world plastic problem, and we believe that we have the solution.