The plastic pollution crisis has become one of the most pressing issues we are facing in the 21st century. After decades of the increasing use of plastic, especially single-use, we are only now finding out about the devastating effects this has had on our planet. But there are some swaps we can adopt if we want to make the world a greener place.
A global issue
This is a global issue and while we can see most plastic piling up on beaches in Southeast Asia, where nations struggle due to inefficient recycling systems, we in the western world are contributing to this problem just as much. Often, our waste is being sent for recycling to those same countries which cannot manage their own waste. As a result, much of what could be recycled ends up being thrown in the ocean or a landfill.
Just because the heaps of plastic are not directly on our doorstep does not mean that we are not contributing towards them.
Let’s also not forget that some plastic our consumption produces does not even make its way through our homes and is discarded during production. Industrial fishing, for example, is known to the single largest contributor towards plastic pollution!
Aside from food packaging or plastic bottles, there’s another form of plastic polluting our planet – microplastics. These are plastic particles smaller than 5mm in size, usually microscopic. Much of them are being released from ocean plastic, but many are also making their way into the ocean from our homes. Cosmetics, washing up sponges or teabags are just some of the products which may contain or release microplastics into the water cycle. Aside from that, many are also hiding in our closets – anytime we wash synthetic garments (fabrics such as polyester, nylon or acrylic), microplastics are released into wastewater.
Our current technologies are not efficient enough to filter these particles out, and so they become part of the water cycle.
Impact on marine life
Millions of animals are killed every year due to plastic pollution. According to National Geographic, nearly 700 species are affected by plastic pollution, most often fish and sea birds.
Firstly, plastic is a physical danger to animals, who may get tangled up in it, leading to injury or death. Plastic six-pack rings are a prime example of a highly dangerous plastic product which can strangle marine animals. However, smaller plastic pieces, especially microplastics, can also be swallowed by animals. This leads them to think they are full while they are lacking nutrition, starving to death.
Plastic pollution is not as frequent on land as it is in the ocean, but don’t forget that the same dangers can apply to land animals as well.
What can you do today?
Knowing the impact of plastic on our planet, what can you do today to help? Here are some examples:
- Opt for reusable alternatives to single-use plastic whenever you can. For example, get yourself a reusable water bottle instead of purchasing bottled water.
- When you buy clothes, remember that synthetic fabrics are plastic as well and choose natural alternatives such as cotton, bamboo, linen or hemp.
- Think about the plastic waste created through the manufacturing of a product, not just the plastic it leaves in your recycling bin.