I can’t say I’m even close to getting rid of all of my one-use plastic consumption. Though I’m trying. I get this guilty feeling every time I throw away a piece of plastic wrap that was used to hold together something I’ve purchased. I even feel bad when I recycle the lid off a coffee cup or plastic bottle (thankfully I haven’t bought one of these in months).
As I’ve travelled around the world I have gotten more and more of a sense of how much plastic pollution there is. I’ve also gotten a sense of how carelessly it can be discarded. Sometimes it is completely accidental, a tiny piece of plastic that blows away in the wind through a busy street, a straw gets washed away in the rising tide. It happens. Though it wouldn’t if it wasn’t consumed.
I care about plastic pollution because I saw it first hand in the ocean. I remember vividly diving off of Sydney’s shores last year. It was a little stormy and the water was getting turned up. So much so that I lost my diving partner at one point and started to panic a little (bad idea 15m under water…). After I found him, we started to see the amount of plastic on the ground. Everything from straws to strings to water bottle caps. We started to pick it up and by the end of the dive we hand handfuls of plastic to throw away. If that was how much we had in the short time we were diving then how much was in the ocean? It scared me.
But if we look at plastic there’s really only one thing we can say: Plastic can’t be consumed.
History of Plastic Use
Not that long ago plastic wasn’t used, or nearly as readily available. The first plastic was invented in 1907 by Leo Baekeland and it was called Bakelite. Soon more and more products made from synthetic materials were produced, patented and sold. Some of the most common plastics like Dow Chemical’s polystyrene were invented in the 1950s. As with everything it continued to snowball until plastic was a part of almost everything you buy at a conventional supermarket. Why? Because it’s cheap and easy!
Back in our grandparent’s day they went to the grocery store and were given paper bags and paper products. Which are night and day compared to plastic.
Decomposition of Plastics
It didn’t take long for people to discover that it didn’t decompose. This is because Plastic is made of huge molecules that don’t break down easily. Though companies have started to add ingredients and attempt to create more eco friendly plastics, these are expensive and ineffective solutions.
Currently plastic’s take between 500 and 1000 years to degrade, and this causes a huge build up. You’d have to be alive for 6 lifetimes to even see it start.
Where does the plastic go?
Plastic Pollution occurs in every country on Earth. Here on just a few stats:
- -40% of the oceans surface is covered in plastic
- -there is a floating mass of plastic double the size of Texas in the Pacific Ocean
- -80% of ocean plastic is from the land
- -Estimated 100 million tonnes of plastic in the ocean
Those are just a few of the plastic facts. What is even worse is that this plastic leaks chemicals into the soil and water as it degrades. So even if it were to disappear it would still leave a lasting mark on the environment around it.
But why should you care?
We’ve all heard these facts over and over and over again. Like a noise in the background that you’ve heard so much you forget it’s there. But we should still care about the planet.
Or care enough so you don’t have to swim in an ocean filled with plastic on your next beach vacation!