Toothbrushes, shampoos, conditioners, coffee cups, cutlery, storage boxes, shopping bags, shipping packages, everywhere we look, we’re surrounded by plastic. We may hike, we may walk on the beach or go for a drive, but plastic follows us around as litter. So much so that it has somehow found its way into fellow species and our stomachs. Surely, this much plastic is not good for us. And it isn’t. Here’s how:
It’s derived from fossil fuels
All of 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic ever produced came from fossil fuels. Around 4% of world oil production is used as a feedstock to make plastics and a similar amount is used as energy in the process. More than a third of it is used as packaging that gets shipped to our homes.
So much energy, such little use
While so much energy is utilized to produce plastic, it’s use has somehow become less and less worth the energy. As mentioned, a significant chunk is used for packaging material that is rapidly discarded. Further, single-use plastic like straws, cups, masks, and more are crowding our landfills and oceans too. For a material that lasts over 500 years easily, it’s mostly used to create clothing, bottles, packaging, and things that don’t have a shelf life of over a year. These bottles become sources of harmful bacteria and microorganisms including Photobacterium rosenbergii, which has been linked to coral bleaching. Also, the Vibrio parahaemolyticus bacteria has been found in marine plastic within the North and Baltic sea, which can pass cholera to humans.
Plastic, a boomerang
Only 7% of the plastic produced actually gets recycled. Most of it is left as litter that goes on to pollute our waterways. Some of it goes through plastic waste management technologies (including incineration, co-incineration, gasification, and pyrolysis) that result in the release of toxic metals, such as lead and mercury, organic substances (dioxins and furans), acid gases, and other toxic substances to the air, water, and soils. As plastic consumption has risen, we’re more likely to be exposed to significant amounts of these toxins.
Plastic is simply toxic
The 5.25 trillion pieces of macro and microplastics floating around come back to us in the form of food we eat, water we drink and the air we breathe. Over 170 fracking chemicals that are used to produce the main feedstocks for plastic have known human health impacts, including cancer, neurological, reproductive, and developmental toxicity, impairment of the immune system, and more. These toxins have direct and documented impacts on skin, eyes, and other sensory organs, the respiratory, nervous, and gastrointestinal systems, liver, and brain.
It affects our already changing climate
Not only does the production of plastic cause emissions that fuels climate change but it also gets in the way of our planet’s ecosystems. A healthy ocean is necessary to sustain the marine plants which produce 50% of the oxygen we breathe. The Earth’s oceans are carbon sinks, absorbing 31% of our excess carbon and over 90% of the excess heat we produce. Over a third of the world population lives in coastal areas, all of whom depend on healthy oceans to sustain ecosystems as well as the local economy. Plastic leaches toxins into the oceans that exacerbates ocean acidification and puts marine life at risk.
With every piece of plastic we use, we’re promising damage that’ll last over 500 years. With every piece of plastic we choose to not use, we’re reducing the demand for such damage.