This article appeared in Unsustainable Magazine on 5 August 2019 and is the second article by Ana Yong.
We live in an age of disposability and convenience. We want quick and easy access to whatever we need and we also get rid of what we don’t need as effortlessly and speedily as we obtained it. This is the case with throwaway plastic bottles. Here are some facts that everyone should know about plastic.
1. Plastic takes nearly 400 years to disintegrate (i)
This is one of the reasons why landfills are forever increasing. Using the United States as an example, shopkablo.com stated that Americans use and dispose of 50 billion plastic bottles a year which means that 100 million plastic bottles are used every day. (ii)
Shopkablo.com also stated that “less than 9% of all plastic produced gets recycled”. Reasons range from the fact that “the containers are mixed with labelling that is of different material, and because of the varying chemical compositions of different types of plastic, recycling these materials together can become very toxic” to a lack of “recycling infrastructure” which means that it is more cost effective for businesses to generate new water bottles than to recycle old ones based on existing expertise and equipment.
2. Plastic Oceans and Seas
An estimated 5 trillion pieces of plastic are currently floating in our seas and oceans and another 8 million tons of plastic waste are discarded into the sea every year. In addition, 100,000 sea turtles and birds are killed by plastic on a yearly basis. (iii) This could be due to the fact that they were either trapped by plastic waste floating in the water or they had swallowed indigestible plastic garbage and suffered a long and painful death.
So how does plastic garbage get into the oceans and seas? In an article by the United Nations Environment Programme, this is due to “wastes released from dumpsites near the coasts or river banks, the littering of beaches, tourism and recreational use of the coasts, fishing industry activities and ship-breaking yards.” (iv)
World Wildlife Fund mentioned that plastic litter ends up in oceans and seas “either through deliberate dumping or from run-off through drains and rivers.” Thereby, allowing unsuspecting sea animals and seabirds to “mistake litter items for prey that can lead to chocking and blocking the breathing passages and stomach.” (v)
3. Microplastics Everywhere
What is Microplastic? According to the Technical University Munich, Microplastic is “any piece of plastic measuring five millimeters in size down to one micrometer, that is, one-thousandth of a millimeter.” (vi) Microplastic is the by-product from the breakdown of larger pieces of plastic like shopping bags. Humans and some marine organisms have been shown to be able to absorb microplastic particles. (vii) Therefore, if we eat a fish that has consumed microplastic bits, then we in turn would also be eating microplastic.
Rachel Adams in an article called ” Plastic in drinking water: what are the risks to human health?” dated 14 September 2017 mentioned that research done on plastic fragments “larger than 2.5 micron” which is “about ten times smaller than the cells which line the gut” may “enter the bloodstream and even cells in the body”. (viii) Right now, no one knows how microplastics will affect humans as there has not been enough research done. Another concern raised in the article is that such plastic elements “could become carriers for other toxins to enter the body” as microplastics “generally repel water and will bind with toxins that don’t dissolve”.
This certainly sounds alarming. In view of the impact that plastic has on all of us, animals and humans alike, maybe we should all take a long and hard look at how we could reuse and recycle whenever we can.
i The Environmental Impact of Plastic Water Bottles and All You Need to Know by shopkablo (undated)
ii The Environmental Impact of Plastic Water Bottles and All You Need to Know by shopkablo (undated)
iii The Environmental Impact of Plastic Water Bottles and All You Need to Know by shopkablo (undated)
iv Marine Litter: The Issue by United Nations Environment Programme (undated)
v Marine Litter by World Wildlife Fund (undated)
vi How dangerous is microplastic? by Technical University Munich, 11 January 2019
vii How dangerous is microplastic? by Technical University Munich, 11 January 2019
viii Plastic in drinking water: what are the risks to human health? by Rachel Adams, 14 September 2017