Feb 24,2021

Plastic society

Disposable cups, straws, plastic bags for fruits and vegetables available at every store, toothbrush packaging, breakfast bags, plastic wraps, bottled water – how often do you use those things? Are they really meant to be used just once? In most cases, they probably are.

Well then. Plastic – an omnipresent material, surrounding us at every step and making it really hard to avoid it.

Over 80% of plastic found in oceans comes from land. Even if we don’t live near an ocean, our rubbish will most likely find their way to the water. How does it happen? Primarily because of three reasons:

1. No plastic waste segregation

Plastic that isn’t segregated goes to landfills. During its transportation, it often gets blown away by the wind, so it may end up in storm drains or rivers that lead to the seas which then take it to the oceans.

2. Littering

Litter that ends up on the street will not remain there for long. The rain and the wind carry it over to streams, rivers and storm drains, which causes it to end up in the seas.

3. Products that end up in the drain

Similarly to previous cases, anything that ends up in the drain ends up in the seas and the oceans. Many everyday items such as wet tissues, cotton buds, personal hygiene products are flushed down in the toilet. Even when we do laundry, our clothes’ microfibers end up in the water because they’re too small to be filtered out by the sewage works.

FEW NUMBER-RELATED FACTS:

Every year, about 8 million tons of plastic end up in the ocean. 70% of it drowns and resides at the bottom of the ocean.
● The USA discards 38 billion water bottles per year, which equals 2 million tons of plastic that end up at landfills
● Every year, we discard 80 million tons of plastic food packaging waste
● Most of the plastic that floats in the oceans comes from only 6 countries: Thailand, China, Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia and Sri Lanka
● The average production of plastic materials equals 359 million tons per year.
● It’s estimated that about 90% of coastal birds have eaten plastic at least once.

 

Since you started reading this article, 1 621 706,121 kg of plastic has been produced around the world.

 

Floating rubbish island?

Not in the shape we may imagine it – it’s more of a plastic smog – millions of plastic particles smaller than the head of a pin, created due to the decaying of larger plastic items such as bottles, cups, etc. floating in the oceans. In the case where there isn’t enough plankton, some sea creatures mistake it with plastic and eat it. Microbeads derived from plastic that end up in the oceans and then are eaten by sea creatures are also present in toothpaste.

Is the plastic present in our food chain and how does it affect us?

Plastic absorbs toxic chemical compounds that are present in seawater. When a fish eats such plastic, the toxins get into its organism, bloodstream, penetrate its muscles, and eventually reach our stomachs when we eat the fish. What happens next? The toxic substances trick the organism into treating them as hormones, which causes disorder in the hormonal balance, and that, in turn, negatively influences the processes conducted by our organism such as metabolism, growth, reproduction, development, organ efficiency.

Plastic in our nutrition

Probably most of the plastic products have an estrogenic effect. What it means is that the chemical compounds (such as Bisphenol A or phthalates) stimulate estrogen production when they reach the organism. Estrogens are a group of hormones that are responsible for, among others, proper development of the reproductive system (mostly in the case of women, less so for men). So when we feed a baby through a warmed up plastic bottle, we might be additionally feeding it with a hormone that endangers their health. Moreover, it turns out that styrofoam, latex and silicon also have such an effect. When hot substances come in contact with these materials, they speed up the process of releasing toxic chemical compounds.

Following the German way?

As the first country in the world, Germany has introduced a law that orders plastic manufacturers to take responsibility for utilising any packaging they sell. Additionally, a special unit supervising the process of storing plastic has been created. They’ve also built machines that people throw the packaging (such as plastic water bottles) into. The machine then scans the item and finds the proper manufacturer so that it can be sent back to them. The manufacturer then sends the packaging to a recycling company and the client receives a small compensation for each bottle. That’s why bottles aren’t lying around in the streets – because everyone collects them. Isn’t that a revolutionary solution?

10 tips to help avoid excessive plastic production:

1. When you order a takeaway coffee, bring your own cup.
2. Don’t leave plastic water bottles near bodies of water.
3. Stop using plastic cutlery.
4. Don’t buy plastic straws.
5. Segregate each piece of plastic.
6. Opt for loose tea, instead of teabags.
7. Choose plastic products that are recycled.
8. Choose clothes made out of natural materials only.
9. Don’t buy fruits and vegetables wrapped in plastic.
10. Avoid cosmetics containing microplastic.

The article was created as part of project called Teenage Action for the Environment. The project is conducted thanks to the grant from Active Citizens Fund National, financed by EEA.

 

Sources:

The inspiration for this article came from a documentary available on Netflix called Plastic Ocean – truly eye-opening.

Plastics report: 2020 Facts PlasticEurope

https://www.wwf.org.uk/updates/how-does-plastic-end-ocean

https://www.wwf.org.uk/updates/ten-tips-reduce-your-plastic-footprint

https://www.wwf.org.uk/updates/plastics-why-we-must-act-now

https://kobieta.onet.pl/dom/jak-ograniczyc-zuzycie-plastiku-16-sposobow/3x8pe3n

Image source: https://crello.com

Author: Gosia/translated by Konrad