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How plastic really affects the environment


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It’s common knowledge by now that our excessive usage of plastic is having a terrible effect on the environment (and if it isn’t for you, where have you been for the past few years?!)

 Plastic Waste

Plastic Waste/Image Credit: RitaE on Pixabay

Plastic is kind of hard to avoid in today’s world – it’s inexpensive, convenient and makes our lives a whole lot easier. But if we’re to protect and conserve the world we live in, we must take the time to educate ourselves on where exactly this plastic is going to end up after we finish using it. 

Why is plastic so bad for the environment? 

Plastic isn’t biodegradable, which is the main reason it’s so harmful – it doesn’t decompose, it just stays how it is. Yes, it breaks down into smaller pieces, but it doesn’t disappear. Which means that when it isn’t recycled, it eventually ends up in the oceans. You know, that giant blue thing that's home to millions of animals and plants?

According to a 2018 study in the journal Science Advances, only 9% of global plastic waste of the 6,300 metric tonnes produced has been recycled. The rest has accumulated in landfills and the ocean, where innocent marine animals die everyday because of our carelessness. Still not convinced? Let’s move on then!

In the Ocean

You’ve probably seen the countless photographs of marine animals that have unfortunately died due to strangling or consumption of plastic, so it’s not rocket science as to how dangerous an impact this can have on the environment. 

Marine debris laden beach in Hawaii

Marine debris-laden beach in Hawaii/ Image Credit: NOAA Marine Debris Program on Flickr

According The Guardian, 'one refuse truck's-worth of plastic is dumped into the sea every minute'. In 2017, Blue Planet 2 aired a whole epsiode dedicated to the effects of plastic on our oceans. James Honeybourne, who helped produce the programme, warned that micropastics ''could be contributing to high levels of contamination in large predators''.

He said that more investigative work needed to be done into the effects of these particles as they "are now so pervasive in the ocean and are consumed by a vast number of sea creatures".

On Land

79% of plastic waste ends up in the oceans and on our land - whether that be in overflowing landfills or as litter in our streets, our plastic waste remains, practically taunting us and our stupidity. 

 Behold thy Landfill

Behold thy Landfill/Image Credit: Justin Ritchie on Flickr

The more we use, the more it piles up, the more we destroy our planet. Just think about it like this for a moment.

We go grocery shopping and our milk bottles are plastic, our chocolate is wrapped in plastic, our bread is wrapped in plastic. All of this is single-use, meaning it’s discarded instantly. Next time you go to the supermarket, take note of just how many of the groceries you buy are wrapped in PLASTIC. And this is something we're meant to be cutting down on. This plastic will remain as a pollutant on our planet for approximately 400 years, according to the National Geographic. Do we really want that? 

In the Air

So, we’ve established that plastic is catching up with us on land and sea, but we win still, right? Yeah, not really. Ridding ourselves of all the plastic waste we use has become an increasingly difficult task. So, the next best bet is to burn it! Except, oh, how wrong we are. 

Burning plastic is hazardous to both animals and humans as it releases poisonous chemicals such as dioxins and furans in the air, which have been 'linked... to cancer and the respiratory diseases'. And how can we forget about that nasty smell that accompanies the burning? Yeah, I know you know what I’m talking about. Remember that time you put your pen in the Bunsen burner in high school? That smell. 

Now, imagine burning all of our plastic waste in one giant bonfire. Think of all the air we’re poisoning just because we couldn’t be bothered to bring a tote bag shopping. 

In our bodies

Water, land, air, plastic is everywhere, affecting everything, including us. Yeah, you got that right. We’re consuming plastic, which shouldn’t really be a surprise considering how much we continue to use as each day goes on. 

Logically, it makes sense, so don’t act surprised. Plastic ends up in the ocean – that could be because it’s non-recyclable or because of litterers, but either way, it’s there. Marine life like plankton consume it; they are then eaten by small fish, who are eaten by even bigger fish. Eventually, this plastic ends up in our system. Scientists from the University of Ghent in Belgium have calculated that 'the average European shellfish consumer has an uptake of 6,400 microplastics per year'. There's no escaping it.

By now you may be wondering how we can make things better, both for the environment and in order to ease our guilt a little. Well, there is. Small steps now will contribute to a brighter, safer future later. 

You can bring recycable shopping bags to carry your shopping in or lower your purchases of plastic-wrapped items. Maybe invest in a solid, sturdy reusable water bottle instead of buying a plastic single-use bottle every day. And whilst you’re at it, buy a matching reusable coffee cup – not only are you reducing plastic, but you might even save a few pennies. And finally, the one that is constantly being forced at us (for very good reason) - stop asking for straws with your drinks. Buy a metal straw if need be but quit asking for the extra pointless plastic. 

At the end of the day, it’s up to you how you act - but know that this world looks after us, so surely we should return the favour. 

To read more on the damaging use of plastics from the National Student, click here.

Lead Image Credit: Emmet on Pexels

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