Just like several modern products and technology, plastic has negative effects. The negative effects of plastic can be hard to observe and may not appear to affect us directly, but plastic damages our planet and health.
Globally, the world produces more than 400 million tons of plastic every year and the vast majority of plastic products are not recyclable. United Nations published a report estimating that 79% of plastic waste is thrown in landfills, dumps or the environment, while about 12% is incinerated and only 9% recycled. In fact, 32% of packaging waste-which is estimated a 141 million tonnes- in 2015, leaked into the environment.
The damage of plastic
Plastic leads to destroying the marine life and polluting the earth. Millions of tons of plastic are in the environment as waste, especially in the oceans and seas. Some estimates point out that the volume of plastic in the ocean will be more than fish by 2050. The ocean is expected to contain 1 tonne of plastic for every 3 tonnes of fish by 2025. More than 80% of marine litter is plastic which kills up to 1 million seabirds and 100,000 marine creatures each year by ingesting it. A report pointed out that the annual economic damage plastics have on the world's marine ecosystem is at least $13 billion and the cost to clean up beaches from plastic is higher than manufacturing.
Some scientific studies say that we are ingesting five grams of plastic per week, the equivalent of eating a credit card, from the tap, bottled water and through our food. This eventually goes to our blood, which can contribute to cancer and many diseases. Further, when plastic is incinerated, it can be harmful to human's health and increase carbon emissions that contribute to climate change.
What is important to note is that plastic does not populate itself. The plastic industry rose because of the development of chemical technology, plastic is extracted from petroleum. Manufacturing of plastic passed through several reigns, in 1907 the first type of modern plastic, Bakelite, was invented and in the 1950's it spread widely. Since then plastic has been used for many purposes in daily life. However, plastic production requires enormous attention.
Global actions on plastic
Many states and international institutions are taking active steps to reduce the suffering of the earth.
Certain types of plastic are expensive to recycle, while others are not recyclable like "single-use plastic". These are used in bags, straws, cutlery and stirring sticks. To reduce the effect of pollution, Canada has decided to ban single-use plastics by 2021. In addition to Canada, in last march, the European Parliament has voted to ban single-use plastic items. India has also pledged last June to eliminate all single-use plastic in the country by 2022.
China, who imports 45% of all plastic waste, decided at the start of 2018 to limit buying foreign waste by banning 24 types of recyclable materials, including recycled plastics. This is a part of their environmental reform policy to protect the local environment and air quality. That put pressure on the European community to recycle its waste themselves.
The great news is that not only states are taking steps to end pollution of plastic, but also the producers of plastic. Jim Fitterling CEO of Dow Chemical Company, one of the top plastic producing companies in the world, said in the declaration to the media "Plastics manufacturers have never been more united about the need to curb plastic waste than now"
Nevertheless, to avoid utopian thinking we should ask a significant question, what is the alternative?
Plastic is used in daily life, for many purposes like packaging and engaging in many industries. We cannot imagine living without it, but in fact, we have many materials that can replace plastic, such as reusable shopping bags, glass, liquid wood, paper, metal and even eco-friendly plastics called "biodegradable plastics" or or bioplastics. This kind of plastic is easy to decay, and is made from natural materials such as, cornstarch, however this alternative can be expensive. The European Parliament says biodegradable plastics will not solve the problem.
Although states, companies and institutions -from diverse political and economic backgrounds- are taking serious steps towards eradicating plastic pollution and protecting our environment, the story of "saving the world" does not end there. The struggle to stop using fossil fuels or nuclear energy are harder, and more complicated.
The UN said "More than 50 nations are taking action to reduce plastic pollution" Therefore the green movement and all people who want to save the environment, should take advantage that nations have good intentions. In addition, the green movement should persuade consumers to accept the alternatives of plastic, which is eco-friendly.
Finally, countering climate change and fighting for protecting our the environment, is a great challenge, with several dimensions, and we should do our best for a better future, for the next generations.